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Codex Kingsborough / Memorial de los Indios de Tepetlaoztoc / Códice de Tepetlaoztoc / Petition of the Indians of Tepetlaoztoc.

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • Codex Kingsborough
    • Memorial de los Indios de Tepetlaoztoc
    • Códice de Tepetlaoztoc
    • Petition of the Indians of Tepetlaoztoc.
  • Description

    Codex; illustrating the history of the people of Tepetlaoztoc in the valley of Mexico between Tezcoco and Otumba and the tribute paid to the Spaniards to about the year 1550. Consisting of seventy-two leaves of which six leaves are blank. Written and painted on European paper.

  • Ethnic name

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 16thC
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 29.5 centimetres
    • Width: 21.5 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Joanne Harwood, In Moctezuma 2002, p.491
    <b>Codex Tepetlaoztoc</b>
    72 folios, European paper, 29.8 X 21.5 cm; unbound

    The Codex Tepetlaoztoc, also known as the Codex Kingsborough, is named after the town (whose name means 'stone mat cave') to the east of Lake Tetzcoco where it was produced. This stunning pictorial document was painted in the Tetzcocan style, with some European innovations, by an indigenous <i>tlacuilo</i> (painter-scribe) whose original tracings are still visible beneath the rich pigments. The Spanish alphabetic glosses and commentary are probably by more than one native hand and the information is organised horizontally across the breadth of two facing pages, instead of vertically down their length.
    The codex was commissioned by the inhabitants of Tepetlaoztoc and its indigenous governor, Luis de Tepada, probably for the Council of the Indies in Spain, which dealt with the affairs of New Spain. It undoubtedly formed part of a lawsuit brought by Tepetlaoztoc against the town's Spanish <i>encomenderors</i>, overlords entrusted with converting the native inhabitants to Christianity in return for tribute in the form of services and goods. The Spanish abuse of this system led to many complaints by native communities from the mid-sixteenth century. Tepetlaoztoc's first <i>encomendero</i> was Hernan Cortes. Among Tepetlaoztoc's worst <i>encomenderos</i> was Gonzalo de Salazar, whose son, Juan Velasquez de Salazar, was in charge at the time the case was brought. The <i>tlacuilo</i>'s portrayal of the Spaniards, who have sickly grey skin, shows versatile command of European drawing techniques.
    The Codex Tepetlaoztoc sets the Spaniards' excessive demands within a broader historical context, beginning in the first part with two maps of the town and its surroundings and going on to record the migration of the indigenous population's Chichimec ancestors from Chicomoztoc ('seven caves'). The first section continues with the settlement, foundation and rulers of Tepetlaoztoc and the (more reasonable) tribute exacted by these. The second part lists the daily service and yearly tribute given to <i>encomenderos</i> between 1522-23 and 1555-56. The tribute included precious items, such as gold jewels (fol.218r), obsidian mirrors (fol.219v) and a gold and emerald box (fol.220r), as well as foodstuffs, such as beans, flour and chickens (fol.214v), and services, such as the carrying of goods by male <i>tamemes</i>, or porters (fol.214v). Spanish demands and punishment resulted in the death of large numbers of native inhabitant (shown by a horizontal shrouded figure), leading to a rapid decline in the town's population in a few decades. The section section is followed by a summary of tribute, including daily, then weekly accounts, and ends with a petition by the native inhabitants.


  • Bibliography

    • Kingsborough Codex 1994 *q KUD [Cod-] bibliographic details
    • Matos Moctezuma 2002 351 bibliographic details
    • McEwan 2009a Cat. 124 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history

    2002, London, Royal Academy, Aztecs
    2003, Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Aztecs

  • Condition


  • Subjects

  • Associated places

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition notes

    At the Lord Kingsborough sale in 1843, the codex was purchased by a bookseller named Rodd and later acquired by the British Museum from him.

  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Add. Ms. 13964


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