General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 18 Apr 2021/2 Flower
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Aztec game of Patolli, from Codex Magliabecchiano

A Game of Patolli, anyone?

Players of the Aztec board game Patolli praying to the god Macuilxóchitl (‘Five Flower’ - god of all games) (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Patolli player in the Codex Mendoza
Patolli player in the Codex Mendoza

The game involved simple counters made of pebbles and was a game of chance similar in many ways to Ludo. Note however the religious and astronomical significance of the numbers involved: four directions and 13 spaces = 52 (the number of years in the Aztec ‘bundle of years’ or century)
(Main image from the Codex Magliabecchiano, info from ‘The Aztecs: People of the Sun’ by Alfonso Caso)

Patolli - the game of life - illustration for Mexicolore by Steve Radzi
Patolli - the game of life - illustration for Mexicolore by Steve Radzi (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Bets were made on the player who could best handle the dice, which were five or six black beans, each of which had a number painted on it... If, in the course of play, a participant threw the “dice” beans in such a way as to make one of them stand on its side, it was regarded as a great event. The lucky thrower then won all the costly goods waged on the game, whether or not his opponent had the opportunity to make his moves’. (Info from ‘The Essential Codex Mendoza’ by Frances F. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt)
The Spanish Dominican friar Diego Durán recorded that, before throwing the dice the players rubbed them between their palms, and in the act of throwing they called out the name of the patron god of the game; don’t we still rub the dice and call out ‘Come on, give me a double six!’?

A game of patolli, Florentine Codex Book 8
A game of patolli, Florentine Codex Book 8 (Click on image to enlarge)

Life, as a Nahua poet said, is like a game of patolli: rich and poor, strong and weak, lucky and unlucky, fierce and gentle, all must play the game (of life) on equal terms, with equal chances. Though the Aztecs had ‘hearts firm as stone’ - committed to the ideals of eagle and jaguar warriors fighting on behalf of the Sun God - they also prized their spiritual, philosophical nature, embodied by the ‘wise faces’ of old sages.
Oh friends...!
We all must play patolli:
we must go to the place of mystery...

(Info from ‘The Aztec Image of Self and Society’ by Miguel León-Portilla)

The recent discovery of a pre-Hispanic patolli ‘board’ (in Campeche)
The recent discovery of a pre-Hispanic patolli ‘board’ (in Campeche) (Click on image to enlarge)

NOTE, 2013-15: Thanks to Dr. Nicholas James and Professor Barbara Voorhies we now have much longer articles for you about patolli and about Aztec and pre-Hispanic games in general: follow links below...

emoticon Aztec silly limerick no. 18, an ode to patolli:-
There was a young man from Coatzingo
Whose life turned into a bingo.
One day at patolli
He won lots of ‘lolly’
- In beans we would call it un ‘ingo.
(Only Mexicans and older British folk will get this...)

‘The Aztecs, patolli and gambling’

‘Games and Other Amusements of the Ancient Mesoamericans’

Read about the discovery (end 2011) of a 1,000-year-old patolli game ‘board’ in Campeche (in Spanish)
Learn more of Barbara Voorhies’s research in ‘Archaeology’ magazine...
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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: The Codex Magliabecchiano (original now in Florence, Italy) was made mid-16th century, early on in the Spanish Colonial period.
Mexicolore replies: Many thanks, Gael, for flagging this up for us! We’ve added the photo to the page, and are planning to open up the whole area of pre-Hispanic games in the coming months...