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Nahua/Aztec men and women, Codex Tudela

Aztec Hairstyles

According to codices, the Aztecs had a wide range of hairstyles that were worn by people of different professions and ranks throughout the empire. Whilst the vast majority of commoners wore their hair in a similar fashion, warriors distinguished their rank by wearing elaborate styles or hair ornaments. Whilst officials also showed their position through ornaments and special cuts, priests grew their hair long. How a person wore their hair could demonstrate what tribe they belonged to; in much the same way as Mexican indigenous textiles nowadays help to indicate a person’s village of origin. (Written/compiled by Julia Flood/Mexicolore)

Many hairstyles had a special meaning; some meant “I have yet to take a captive in war”, others told us “I am not yet married”. The following article is a summary of some hairstyles described in “The Essential Codex Mendoza” by Frances Berdan and Patricia Anawalt (University of California Press, 1997).

Pic 2: Two Nahua (Aztec) women, Codex Tudela, folios 1 & 2
Pic 2: Two Nahua (Aztec) women, Codex Tudela, folios 1 & 2 (Click on image to enlarge)


Quachic Warrior

Picture 3 shows the Quachic warrior or “Shorn One” (Berdán 1997:190). His hairstyle is called ‘Quachichictli’ and comprises a stiff ridge of hair that grows down the centre of the warrior’s otherwise shaved scalp. Whereas in the Florentine Codex Quachic warriors grow a small patch of hair above their right ears, that does not appear in this illustration from the Codex Mendoza.

Pic 3: Quachic warrior, Codex Mendoza, folio 64r
Pic 3: Quachic warrior, Codex Mendoza, folio 64r (Click on image to enlarge)

Tlacatecatl Lord

Although Picture 4 does not demonstrate a hairstyle, it’s well worth showing for its portrayal of the magnificent
’Quetzallalpiloni’ headdress. Here, it’s worn by King Nezahualpilli of Texcoco (Codex Ixtlilxóchitl). Quetzallalpilonis were ornaments given in tribute from rich provinces within the modern state of Oaxaca. Those that bore the Quetzallalpiloni were part of the imperial family.

Pic 4: Tlacatecatl Lord, Codex Ixtlilxóchitl, folio 108r
Pic 4: Tlacatecatl Lord, Codex Ixtlilxóchitl, folio 108r (Click on image to enlarge)

Tequihua Warrior

The brave Tequihua warriors wore a hairstyle called ‘Temillotl’ (Picture 5). Also worn by the merchant (or Pochteca) deity Yacatecuhtli, the Temillotl hairstyle was described in the 16th century document, Primeros Memoriales, as a ‘column’ of hair. Yacatecuhtli’s name meant ‘nose god’ or ‘god of the vanguard’ (referring to the merchants’ extensive travels). The Florentine Codex tells of the procedure that came into play when a successful warrior moved up the military hierarchy: ‘And when he took four [captives in battle] Moctezuma then let his hair be cut like that of a seasoned warrior.’

Pic 5: Tequihua warrior, Codex Mendoza, folio 62r
Pic 5: Tequihua warrior, Codex Mendoza, folio 62r (Click on image to enlarge)

The Otomí Warrior

This rank was destined for Aztec warriors rather than members of the Otomí tribe themselves, who dwelt in arid, mid-northern Mesoamerica. Known throughout the Mexican Basin to be ferocious fighters, their bravery must have been the inspiration behind a rank of this name. To be part of it meant that you were part of a special ‘order’, like that of the Eagle and Jaguar warriors. This warrior (Picture 6) wears his hair in a special manner. His topknot is tied with a red band and is worn longer at the back than that of the Tequihua Warrior. His yellow earplugs and lip ornaments are unique but probably not made of gold.

Pic 6: Otomí warrior, Codex Mendoza, folio 64r
Pic 6: Otomí warrior, Codex Mendoza, folio 64r (Click on image to enlarge)


A great trait of Aztec priests is that their hair was long and untended. When young nobles entered religious schools, Calmecacs, they let their shaved childhood heads grow hair and it was not cut until they departed. Some of them, however, became priests and consequently left their hair untouched forever. A priest’s hair was tied back with a white ribbon and smeared, as was his entire body, with soot. Durán explained that the locks of hair became matted, long and mouldy, and likened them to “tightly curled horse’s manes” . In time they came to reach the knee in length (Berdán 1997:149) .

Pic 7: Priest, master of the religious Calmecac school, Codex Mendoza (L) and priest performing sacrifice, Codex Tudela (R)
Pic 7: Priest, master of the religious Calmecac school, Codex Mendoza (L) and priest performing sacrifice, Codex Tudela (R) (Click on image to enlarge)

Pictures 7 and 8 from the Codex Tudela and Codex Mendoza help to illustrate this style. You can see the matted effect (individual hairs are not illustrated in previous images), the white ribbon and, in two of the images, a red stripe covering the area of the right ear. Because the priests’ distinctive hair arrangements were symbolic of their roles as religious men, the loss of this physical detail would deeply affect the possibility of them completing their duties. This is why the punishment given to bad priests for not completing their duties as the teachers of novices was either banishment, death, or the cutting of the hair above their foreheads!

Pic 8: Priests performing multiple sacrifices, Codex Tudela, folio 53
Pic 8: Priests performing multiple sacrifices, Codex Tudela, folio 53 (Click on image to enlarge)


‘These four in this row served as commanders and officers for whatever the lords of Mexico ordered and decided’ Codex Mendoza.

Pic 9: The lord’s executors, Codex Mendoza, folio 65r
Pic 9: The lord’s executors, Codex Mendoza, folio 65r (Click on image to enlarge)

The Aztecs portrayed here (Picture 9) are enough to challenge anyone’s idea of what a constable should be! Just four of many similarly ranked dignitaries, these men seem to be linked together by their similar physical appearance. They are the emperor’s official executors who carried out death sentences at his command. They are also dressed in the same manner, with black body paint and black/brown faces, tubular ear plugs and plain cloaks. They have long hair with white or red ribbons twisted around it and fastened at the neck. Berdán and Anawalt suggest that these hair arrangements, called ‘Achcacauhti’, are what distinguish these constables as executioners. Here is an excerpt of their duties in this role from the Florentine Codex:
’They were qualified to hit people over the head, strangle them with cords, stone them publicly or cut them to pieces.’ Sahagún names more constables of this rank in the Florentine Codex (Berdán 1997: 195).

Pic 10: Master of youths at the ‘telpochcalli’, commoner school, Codex Mendoza, folio 57r
Pic 10: Master of youths at the ‘telpochcalli’, commoner school, Codex Mendoza, folio 57r (Click on image to enlarge)

The Common Boys’ Teacher: Master of Youths

The master of youths also had his own special hairstyle (Picture 10). The aesthetic emphasis of this arrangement lies in the shaving of his temples. He does this by running a sharpened piece of turtle shell along this area. Another way of distinguishing the rank of the school master is by his cape, which is made out of rough fibre. It is the mark of being a commoner. Nevertheless, he is allowed to wear special ornaments that suggest standing in society. He wears feathers and a special necklace that could have been made from shells.

Pic 11: Youth, Codex Mendoza, folio 62r
Pic 11: Youth, Codex Mendoza, folio 62r (Click on image to enlarge)

Young male children had to keep their heads shaved until the age of 10. They were then allowed to mature to the next symbolic stage in their lives and allow a patch of hair at the back of their heads to grow (noble youngsters followed the example of their own teachers, who were priests, and grew theirs completely). The only way for an adolescent (Picture 11) to eventually cut off his tuft was by capturing an enemy in battle; wrestling fully grown men must have been a gargantuan task for a fifteen year old! However, until this aim was achieved, youths were prey to taunts from their more advanced contemporaries and, according to Sahagún, women. This quote (yellow box, below) from the General History of the Things of New Spain illustrates the spiteful dialogue between a youth and the woman who bullies him:-

Sources (information):-

Berdán, Frances F. and Patricia Rieff Anawalt. The Essential Codex Mendoza. University of California Press, London, England, 1997

Sahagún, Fray Bernadino de, Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España, Prologue by Angel María Garibay, 6th edition, Editorial Porrúa, 1985, Mexico City, Mexico

Codices: Codex Borgia, Florentine Codex, Codex Ixtlilxóchitl, Codex Mendoza, Codex Tudela.

Sources of images-

All enlargeable images scanned from our copies of the Codex Mendoza (original in the Bodleian Library, Oxford) (James Cooper Clark 1938 facsimile edition, London), Codex Ixtlilxóchitl (ADEVA 1976 facsimile edition, Graz) and Codex Tudela (Colección Thesaurus Americae 2002 facsimile edition, Madrid)

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Oct 18th 2007

emoticon EVER HAD A BAD HAIR DAY? Surely it wasn’t as terrible as what this youth (Pic 11) had to face...!
‘He with the occipital tuft of hair can speak! Canst thou talk? Be thou already concerned over how thy tuft of hair will fall off, thou with the little tuft of hair. It is an evil smelling tuft of hair, it is a stinking tuft of hair. Art thou not just a woman like me?’
’Anoint thy stomach with mud; scratch thy stomach, twist one leg about the other...; fall stinking on the ground. There is a stone, a hard stone; strike thy face with the stone, strike thy face with it, make the blood spurt forth. Scratch thy nose with the stone, or bore a hole with a fire drill into the windpipe; though you will spit (through) there.’
(Nowadays, of course, we would just say ‘____ off!’)

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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: Sorry, being almost bald I’m not a hair expert...!
Mexicolore replies: Fringes probably yes (see the black section above (near top, under ‘Men’...); cuffs of fur, well not as a luxury item as some women wear today, but decorative bands and ribbons in the hair, yes.
Mexicolore replies: Excellent question, Matt! We’re not sure, and we’re asking Chloe Sayer, expert on Mexica(n) clothing styles, to comment... See the result (2010) in our ‘Ask Us’ section.