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Article unlikely to be of interest to younger children Mexicolore contributor Professor Lori Boornazian Diel

‘Manuscript of a Dogging’

We are sincerely grateful to Lori Boornazian Diel, Associate Professor of Art History, Texas Christian University (USA) for this enlightening and meticulously researched article on an early colonial manuscript that has, in her words, ‘been published multiple times to illustrate the cruelties of the Spanish conquest’. But why was it made in the first place?

Pic 1: The ‘Manuscript of a Dogging’
Pic 1: The ‘Manuscript of a Dogging’ (Click on image to enlarge)

The Manuscrito del Aperreamiento, or Manuscript of a Dogging, pictures an indigenous lord being attacked and killed by a chained dog controlled by an unnamed Spaniard (pic 1). Six more indigenous men are shown along the right border; they are chained together and presumably next in line to receive the same brutal punishment. Well-dressed in an elaborately brocaded jacket and feather-tufted hat, Hernán Cortés stands at the upper left. He is identified with an alphabetic annotation that simply reads “marques” for his title of Marques del Valle. Standing next to him and also identified with an alphabetic annotation is his Nahua translator, Marina. She wears an embellished huipil and skirt combined with European-style shoes. Cortés holds his hands in a gesture suggesting communication, while Marina holds a rosary. Together, the two appear to be proselytizing the indigenous lords, but based on their captivity and impending punishment, the men must have refused these overtures. Indeed, the first man in the chained group holds a sword, suggesting open rebellion against the Spanish message. At the bottom of the painting, another Spaniard, identified with an alphabetic annotation as Andrés de Tapia, communicates with two indigenous men identified as Temetzin and Don Rodrigo Xochitototzintli.

Pic 2: Spanish torture; bronze sculpture, National History Museum, Chapultepec, Mexico City
Pic 2: Spanish torture; bronze sculpture, National History Museum, Chapultepec, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

Modern viewers cannot help but be shocked at the graphic image of violence depicted in this painting, which accordingly has been published multiple times to illustrate the cruelties of the Spanish conquest. Nevertheless, despite its frequent publication, little is known about this event or painting. Why would Cortés have carried out so brutal an execution? And why, years after the events depicted must have happened, was this particular record created? On the one hand, the answers to these questions reveal the violence of the immediate post-conquest years, as the Spaniards struggled to impose control, often in violent terms, over their newly conquered territories. On the other hand, they reveal the ambivalent role of indigenous peoples in the complex negotiations of the early colonial period, as they struggled, sometimes against their own countrymen, to assert their own positions of power under Spanish domination.

Pic 3: Glyph for Coyoacan, Codex Mendoza, folio 47r (detail)
Pic 3: Glyph for Coyoacan, Codex Mendoza, folio 47r (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

In the relatively scant literature on this painting, its provenance has been alternatively credited to either Coyoacan or Cholula. The Coyocacan, or Place of the Coyotes, provenance has been suggested because a place glyph of a coyote surrounded by hills floats in the middle of the painting. Though different from the Coyoacan place sign in the Codex Mendoza (pic 3), the associated alphabetic annotation, written in Nahuatl, confirms that the indigenous men died at Coyoacan.

Pic 4: The Map of Cholula
Pic 4: The Map of Cholula (Click on image to enlarge)

Nevertheless, other details within the work indicate that the men originally were from Cholula. The alphabetic annotations along the right side of the piece associate the first two men with a place called San Andrés, the next three men with San Pablo, and the last with Santa Maria, which were all towns contained within the Cholula city-state. A map of Cholula painted in the 1580s as a part of the city’s Relación Geográfica shows these same three cities along the right margin (pic 4). The inclusion of the Spanish conquistador, Andrés de Tapia, at the bottom of the painting provides yet another link to Cholula as Tapia held Cholula in encomienda, or as a land grant, immediately after the conquest, from 1522 until 1524.

Pic 5: Glyph for the town of San Miguel Tecpan. Map of Cholula (detail)
Pic 5: Glyph for the town of San Miguel Tecpan. Map of Cholula (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

Further associating the punished men with Cholula is the identity of the primary victim. An alphabetic gloss here reads, tecpan miqui tlalchiachteotzin, or “Tlalchiachteotzin from Tecpan dies.” The word tecpan references San Miguel Tecpan, another city in the Cholula city-state; it appears towards the upper left of the Cholula map (pic 5). Moreover, according to numerous sources, Cholula was ruled by two high priests, and one of these went by the title of Tlalchiach. The Nahuatl word construction in the Manuscrito reveals the highly revered nature of this position, as teo-tl is the Nahuatl word for holy or divine, while the –tzin suffix references an honored figure.

Pic 6: Glyph for the city of Cholula. Map of Cholula (detail)
Pic 6: Glyph for the city of Cholula. Map of Cholula (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

Moreover, Cholula itself was considered a highly sacred city, as suggested by its full name of Tollan-Chololan. Toward the upper right of the Cholula map, we see the place sign for Cholula, here written “Tollan Cholula” and pictured as a group of reeds growing out of swirling waters (pic 6). The word tollan means “Place of Reeds” and was a symbolic term for great and sacred cities throughout Mesoamerica. Also, Cholula had a multitude of temples and was famed as a sacred pilgrimage center. Some Spanish chroniclers even compared Cholula to ancient Rome and Mecca. It was also home to the largest pyramid built in Mesoamerica, which today has only been partially excavated and is topped by a Spanish church built during the colonial period (pic 7). Further enhancing its sacred prestige, Cholula was the key city in the cult of Quetzalcoatl, one of the most important deities in Late Post-Classic Central Mexico.

Pic 7: Postcard of the ‘Cerro de los Remedios’, Cholula, early-mid 20th century
Pic 7: Postcard of the ‘Cerro de los Remedios’, Cholula, early-mid 20th century (Click on image to enlarge)

Moreover, Cholula’s high priests played a key investiture role within the region, confirming newly inaugurated rulers in power; such ceremonies are pictured in the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca (pic 8). Thus, the Tlalchiach of Cholula played a key religious and political role in pre-conquest Mesoamerica. Accordingly, Cortés’s execution of this man could not have been an indiscriminate attack of an indigenous lord but a strategic targeting of a key religious and political leader for the indigenous peoples. With this execution, Cortés would have decapitated the native religious and political hierarchy of the provinces, thereby creating a power vacuum that Spanish political and religious authority had to fill.

Pic 8: Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca, folio 21r
Pic 8: Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca, folio 21r (Click on image to enlarge)

The excessive brutality of this execution was also meaningful. The executions took place in Coyoacan, where many Spaniards and indigenous lords were gathered immediately after the conquest. Thus, the spectacle of a dog attacking a key religious leader would have been a dramatic enactment of Cortés’s power. Moreover, the choice of a dog as executioner would have added another level of terror, especially for the native witnesses who were highly fearful of the Spanish mastiffs, as their experience with dogs were with the small and relatively harmless Mexican dog varieties. For Spaniards, the choice of a dog to exact such a harsh punishment would also have been meaningful. The act of throwing criminals to the beasts had precedents in ancient Roman society, and Spanish legal codes were built on Roman precedents.

Pic 9: Bear devouring a criminal. Roman mosaic
Pic 9: Bear devouring a criminal. Roman mosaic (Click on image to enlarge)

For the ancient Romans, death by being thrown to beasts was associated with lesser members of society. Indeed, as Luis Weckmann has noted, the act of being killed by a beast essentially diminished the victim’s status to that of a beast. Accordingly, the violent executions would have sent a strong message of Spanish superiority over indigenous leaders and the necessity of accepting Spanish authority.

Pic 10: The annotation in Náhuatl at the foot of the Map of Cholula (detail)
Pic 10: The annotation in Náhuatl at the foot of the Map of Cholula (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

An alphabetic annotation at the bottom of the painting provides more information on this event and its aftermath. The annotation is written in Nahuatl, and translated, it reads, “When the seven tlatoque died, then Tapia installed Temetzin as ruler. After only 160 days, Tapia came to hang him. And then don Rodrigo Xochitototzintli was made ruler, he was a citizen of Cholula. The Marques came forty-one years ago, four years later the tlatoque died.” The last sentence in the quote above provides key dates for the events depicted and for the painting of the Manuscrito. First, it tells us that Cortés arrived “forty-one years ago.” As Cortés arrived in Mexico in 1519, the annotation had to have been written in 1560. The painting was surely created around the same time; the style of the work, with its use of European illusionistic devices, is typical of the mid-sixteenth century. The annotation goes on to say that the dog attacks happened four years after Cortés’s arrival, or in 1523. This explains Andrés de Tapia’s inclusion in the work, as he held Cholula in encomienda between 1522 and 1524.

Pic 11: Codex Kingsborough. British Museum
Pic 11: Codex Kingsborough. British Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

The annotation also tells us about the aftermath of these events. After the deaths of these indigenous lords, a man named Temetzin became Cholula’s ruler, but after a number of months in power, Tapia had him hanged. In legal documents from this same time, Tapia was accused of numerous brutalities against his indigenous charges, specifically burning and hanging some for not providing him gold. Such brutal punishments were likely common, as similar punishments are recorded in the Codex Kingsborough, a manuscript compiled by the people of Tepetlaoztoc who brought suit against their encomendero for excessive tribute demands and harsh treatment (pic 11). The annotation in the Manuscrito must refer to similar events; in fact, the Cholula encomienda was soon taken away from Tapia for his brutalities. Lastly, the annotation tells us that a man named don Rodrigo Xochitototzintli, a citizen of Cholula, became the city-state’s latest ruler.

Pic 12: Don Rodrigo Xochitototzintli and some of his countrymen. ‘Manuscript of a Dogging’ (detail)
Pic 12: Don Rodrigo Xochitototzintli and some of his countrymen. ‘Manuscript of a Dogging’ (detail) (Click on image to enlarge)

Ultimately, this lengthy annotation explains why don Rodrigo Xochitototzintli was made the ruler of Cholula, and I suspect that the entire painting, with its horrific image of the brutal dog attack, was different than the Codex Kingsborough in that it was not made as an indictment against the Spaniards (both Tapia and Cortés) for their brutalities, but instead for a more mundane reason, to explain how it came to be that don Rodrigo Xochitototzintli became Cholula’s ruler. Indeed, a more nuanced reading of the pictorial imagery in the painting reveals an interesting contrast between don Rodrigo Xochitototzintli and his countrymen, the victims of the brutal dog attacks.

Visual cues within the work communicate that don Rodrigo Xochitototzintli was a legitimate Christian ruler, while his countrymen were pagan rebels. For example, the indigenous regalia of the victims link them more to the pagan past than the Christian present. The men wear native sandals, decorated loincloths, and rosette neckpieces, whereas the two rulers of Cholula shown below wear plain loincloths modestly covered by long mantles.

Pic 13: Quetzallalpiloni detail, Codex Mendoza folio 65r
Pic 13: Quetzallalpiloni detail, Codex Mendoza folio 65r (Click on image to enlarge)

Moreover, the native captives wear their hair with a short tuft at the front and the rest elegantly twisted and bound with a feathered item called a quetzallalpiloni. This device has militaristic associations in other sources. For example, the Codex Mendoza shows high-ranking Aztec warriors wearing the quetzallalpiloni (pic 13), which coupled with the sword held by the first man in the chained group, suggests rebellion against Spanish authority. In contrast, the two men below are unarmed and wear their hair in a short cut more typical of the Spaniards. Moreover, they have slight stubble on their cheeks, further associating them with the bearded Spaniards. Lastly, of all the native men depicted, don Rodrigo Xochitototzintli is the only one to have a Spanish name, which he would have received upon baptism. The implication is that don Rodrigo Xochitototzintli is the only true Christian and accordingly Cholula’s legitimate leader as he has accepted Spanish religious and political authority.

Pic 14: Facade of the Casa de Montejo, Mérida, Yucatan
Pic 14: Facade of the Casa de Montejo, Mérida, Yucatan (Click on image to enlarge)

Ultimately, the visual record communicates that the Cholulteca noblemen refused to submit to the Spaniards and their religion and, as punishment, were executed. Don Rodrigo, in contrast, had accepted the Spaniards and their religion and was appointed Cholula’s ruler by its encomendero Andrés de Tapia. Thus, don Rodrigo would have stood the most to gain through a record of these events because they established the legitimacy of his rule in a Spanish context. Moreover, the visual record suggests the culpability of the native victims, for the implication is that their deaths were instigated by their refusal to accept Christianity. Though shocking to us today, Cortés’s actions were justified according to Spanish law. The Spanish Crown and its missionaries debated the appropriate use of force in the evangelization process, and a general consensus emerged that if the indigenes refused to submit to Christianity, they could be forcibly subjugated. This legal justification is contained in the requerimiento, a document that was to be publicly read by Spanish conquerors such as Cortés to the indigenous peoples. The requerimiento demanded the indigenes hear the gospel and warned that if they refused, just war could be waged against them. Of course, the requerimiento was read in Spanish, which the natives could not have understood at this early date. Indeed, Bartolomé de Las Casas famously lamented that he did not know whether to laugh or cry at its absurdity. Nevertheless, in a Spanish legal context, the refusal of these indigenous lords to submit to evangelization would have legitimated Cortés’s attack against them, essentially marking them as rebels against the Christian faith.

Pic 15: Spanish cruelty to indigenous Mexicans. Codex Kingsborough. British Museum
Pic 15: Spanish cruelty to indigenous Mexicans. Codex Kingsborough. British Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

The excessive brutality of this attack may have caused an outcry, as did other attacks against native peoples. For example, the execution of a leader of Michoacan in 1530 for rebellion and idolatry was highly controversial, but I have been unable to find references to the violent execution of Cholula’s Tlalchiach in contemporary accounts. This may be because it happened in the chaotic aftermath of the immediate post-conquest years and because our primary record of the event was not created with the intention of holding the Spaniards accountable for their harsh actions. Nevertheless, though the Manuscrito may not have been intended as an indictment against the Spaniards for their brutalities, it stands today as a lasting memorial of the violence that continued to be inflicted upon native peoples after the military conquest of Mexico turned to its spiritual conquest.

For more thorough treatments of the Manuscrito del aperreamiento, please read my following articles:-
“Castigos abominables: El Manuscrito del aperreamiento.” Arqueología Mexicana, vol. xx, no. 115 (May-June 2012):71-73.
Manuscrito del aperreamiento (Manuscript of the Dogging): A ‘Dogging’ and its Implications for Early Colonial Cholula.” Ethnohistory, vol. 58, no. 4 (2011):585-611.
“The Spectacle of Death in Early Colonial New Spain in the Manuscrito del aperreamiento.” In Death and Afterlife in the Early Modern Hispanic World, edited by John Beusterien and Constance Cortez. Hispanic Issues On Line 7 (2010):144-163. (http://hispanicissues.umn.edu/DeathandAfterlife.html).

Picture sources:-
• Main image of the ‘Manuscript of a Dogging’, courtesy Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris; image details taken from this
• Pic 2: Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Pix 3 & 13: Images from the Codex Mendoza (original in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) scanned from our own copy of the James Cooper Clark facsimile edition, London, 1938
• Pic 4: Map of Cholula owned by and courtesy of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, University of Texas, Austin; image details taken from this
• Pic 7: Public domain; image from website of VintagePostcards.org
• Pic 8: Public domain; original owned by the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris
• Pic 9: Wikipedia (Damnatio ad bestias)
• Pic 11: Public domain; original owned by the British Museum
• Pic 14: Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Pic 15: Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore; original owned by the British Museum.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Nov 04th 2012

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Mexicolore replies: Many thanks for correcting us! We’ve amended the picture caption above. We took the photo some 30 years ago and couldn’t remember where!