Aztec calendar

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The Aztec or Mexica calendar is the calendar system that was used by the Aztecs as well as other Pre-Columbian peoples of central Mexico. It is one of the Mesoamerican calendars, sharing the basic structure of calendars from throughout ancient Mesoamerica.

Monolito de la Piedra del Sol.jpg

The Aztec calendar stone, also called the Sun Stone, is on display at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The calendar consisted of a 365-day calendar cycle called xiuhpōhualli (year count) and a 260-day ritual cycle called tōnalpōhualli (day count). These two cycles together formed a 52-year "century", sometimes called the "calendar round". The xiuhpōhualli is considered to be the agricultural calendar, since it is based on the sun, and the tōnalpōhualli is considered to be the sacred calendar.


The tōnalpōhualli ("day count") consists of a cycle of 260 days, each day signified by a combination of a number from 1 to 13, and one of the twenty day signs. With each new day, both the number and day sign would be incremented: 1 Crocodile is followed by 2 Wind, 3 House, 4 Lizard, and so forth up to 13 Reed, after which the cycle of numbers would restart (though the twenty day signs had not yet been exhausted) resulting in 1 Jaguar, 2 Eagle, and so on, as the days immediately following 13 Reed. This cycle of number and day signs would continue similarly until the 20th week, which would start on 1 Rabbit, and end on 13 Flower. It would take a full 260 days (13×20) for the two cycles (of twenty day signs, and thirteen numbers) to realign and repeat the sequence back on 1 Crocodile.

Day signs

The set of day signs used in central Mexico is identical to that used by Mixtecs, and to a lesser degree similar to those of other Mesoamerican calendars. Each of the day signs also bears an association with one of the four cardinal directions.[1][2]

There is some variation in the way the day signs were drawn or carved. Those here were taken from the Codex Magliabechiano.

Image Nahuatl name Pronunciation English translation Direction
Cipactli.jpg Cipactli [siˈpáktɬi] Crocodile
Crocodilian Monster
Ehecatl2.jpg Ehēcatl [eʔˈéːkatɬ] Wind North
Calli.jpg Calli [ˈkálːi] House West
Cuetzpalin.jpg Cuetzpalin [kʷetsˈpálin̥] Lizard South
Coatl.jpg Cōātl [ˈkóːwaːtɬ] Serpent
Miquiztli.jpg Miquiztli [miˈkístɬi] Death North
Mazatl.jpg Mazātl [ˈmásaːtɬ] Deer
Tochtli.jpg Tōchtli [ˈtóːtʃtɬi] Rabbit South
Atl3.jpg Ātl [ˈaːtɬ] Water East
Itzcuintli.jpg Itzcuīntli [itsˈkʷíːn̥tɬi] Dog North
Image Nahuatl name Pronunciation English translation Direction
Ozomatli.jpg Ozomahtli [osoˈmáʔtɬi] Monkey West
Malinalli.jpg Malīnalli [maliːˈnálːi] Grass South
Acatl.jpg Ācatl [ˈáːkatɬ] Reed East
Ocelotl.jpg Ocēlōtl [oːˈséːloːtɬ] Ocelot
Cuauhtli.jpg Cuāuhtli [ˈkʷáːʍtɬi] Eagle West
Cozcacuauhtli.jpg Cōzcacuāuhtli [koːskaˈkʷáːʍtɬi] Vulture South
Olin (Aztec glyph from the Codex Magliabechiano).jpg Ōlīn [ˈoːliːn̥] Movement
Tecpatl.jpg Tecpatl [ˈtékpatɬ] Flint
Flint Knife
Quiahuitl.jpg Quiyahuitl [kiˈjáwitɬ] Rain West
Xochitl.jpg Xōchitl [ˈʃoːtʃitɬ] Flower South

Wind and Rain are represented by images of their associated gods, Ehēcatl and Tlāloc respectively.

Other marks on the stone showed the current world and also the worlds before this one. Each world was called a sun, and each sun had its own species of inhabitants. The Aztecs believed that they were in the Fifth Sun and like all of the suns before them they would also eventually perish due to their own imperfections. Every 52 years was marked out because they believed that 52 years was a life cycle and at the end of any given life cycle the gods could take away all that they have and destroy the world.


The 260 days of the sacred calendar were grouped into twenty periods of 13 days each. Scholars usually refer to these thirteen-day "weeks" as trecenas, using a Spanish term derived from trece "thirteen" (just as the Spanish term docena "dozen" is derived from doce "twelve"). The original Nahuatl term is not known.

Each trecena is named according to the calendar date of the first day of the 13 days in that trecena. In addition, each of the twenty trecenas in the 260-day cycle had its own tutelary deity:

Trecena Deity Trecena Deity
1 Crocodile Ōmeteōtl 1 Monkey Patecatl
1 Jaguar Quetzalcoatl 1 Lizard Itztlacoliuhqui
1 Deer Tepēyōllōtl 1 Quake Tlazōlteōtl
1 Flower Huēhuecoyōtl 1 Dog Xīpe Totēuc
1 Reed Chalchiuhtlicue 1 House Itzpapalotl
1 Death Tōnatiuh 1 Vulture Xolotl
1 Rain Tlāloc 1 Water Chalchiuhtotolin
1 Grass Mayahuel 1 Wind Chantico
1 Snake Xiuhtecuhtli 1 Eagle Xōchiquetzal
1 Flint Mictlāntēcutli 1 Rabbit Xiuhtecuhtli


In ancient times the year was composed of eighteen months, and thus it was observed by the native people. Since their months were made of no more than twenty days, these were all the days contained in a month, because they were not guided by the moon but by the days; therefore, the year had eighteen months. The days of the year were counted twenty by twenty.

Xiuhpōhualli is the Aztec year (xihuitl) count (pōhualli). One year consists of 360 named days and 5 nameless (nēmontēmi). These 'extra' days are thought to be unlucky. The year was broken into 18 periods of twenty days each, sometimes compared to the Julian month. The Nahuatl word for moon is metztli but whatever name was used for these periods is unknown. Through Spanish usage, the 20-day period of the Aztec calendar has become commonly known as a veintena.

Each 20-day period started on Cipactli (Crocodile) for which a festival was held. The eighteen veintena are listed below. The dates are from early eyewitnesses; each wrote what they saw. Bernardino de Sahagún's date precedes the observations of Diego Durán by several decades and is believed to be more recent to the surrender. Both are shown to emphasize the fact that the beginning of the Native new year became non-uniform as a result of an absence of the unifying force of Tenochtitlan after the Mexica defeat.

# Durán time Sahagún time Fiesta names Symbol English translation
1 Mar 1 – Mar 20 Feb 2 – Feb 21 Atlcahualo, Cuauhitlehua MetzliAtlca.jpg Ceasing of Water, Rising Trees
2 Mar 21 – Apr 9 Feb 22 – Mar 13 Tlacaxipehualiztli MetzliTlaca.jpg Rites of Fertility; Xipe-Totec ("the flayed one")
3 Apr 10 – Apr 29 Mar 14 – Apr 2 Tozoztontli MetzliToz.jpg Lesser Perforation
4 Apr 30 – May 19 Apr 3 – Apr 22 Huey Tozoztli MetzliToz2.jpg Greater Perforation
5 May 20 – Jun 8 Apr 23 – May 12 Tōxcatl MeztliToxcatl.jpg Dryness
6 Jun 9 – Jun 28 May 13 – Jun 1 Etzalcualiztli MeztliEtzal.jpg Eating Maize and Beans
7 Jun 29 – July 18 Jun 2 – Jun 21 Tecuilhuitontli MeztliTecu.jpg Lesser Feast for the Revered Ones
8 July 19 – Aug 7 Jun 22 – Jul 11 Huey Tecuilhuitl MeztliHTecu.jpg Greater Feast for the Revered Ones
9 Aug 8 – Aug 27 Jul 12 – Jul 31 Tlaxochimaco, Miccailhuitontli MeztliMicc.jpg Bestowal or Birth of Flowers, Feast to the Revered Deceased
10 Aug 28 – Sep 16 Aug 1 – Aug 20 Xócotl huetzi, Huey Miccailhuitl MeztliMiccH.jpg Feast to the Greatly Revered Deceased
11 Sept 17 – Oct 6 Aug 21 – Sept 9 Ochpaniztli MeztliOch.jpg Sweeping and Cleaning
12 Oct 7 – Oct 26 Sept 10 – Sept 29 Teotleco MeztliTeo.jpg Return of the Gods
13 Oct 27 – Nov 15 Sept 30 – Oct 19 Tepeilhuitl MeztliTep.jpg Feast for the Mountains
14 Nov 16 – Dec 5 Oct 20 – Nov 8 Quecholli MeztliQue.jpg Precious Feather
15 Dec 6 – Dec 25 Nov 9 – Nov 28 Pānquetzaliztli MeztliPanq.jpg Raising the Banners
16 Dec 26 – Jan 14 Nov 29 – Dec 18 Atemoztli MetzliAtem.jpg Descent of the Water
17 Jan 15 – Feb 3 Dec 19 – Jan 7 Tititl MeztliTitl.jpg Stretching for Growth
18 Feb 4 – Feb 23 Jan 8 – Jan 27 Izcalli MeztliIzcalli.jpg Encouragement for the Land & People
18u Feb 24 – Feb 28 Jan 28 – Feb 1 nēmontēmi (5 day period) MeztliNem.jpg Empty days (no specific activities or holidays)


The ancient Mexicans counted their years by means of four signs combined with thirteen numbers, obtaining periods of 52 years,[3] which are commonly known as Xiuhmolpilli, a popular but incorrect name; the correct Nahuatl word for this cycle is Xiuhnelpilli.[4] We can see below the table with the current years:

Tlalpilli Tochtli Tlalpilli Acatl Tlalpilli Tecpatl Tlalpilli Calli
1 tochtli / 1974 1 acatl / 1987 1 tecpatl / 2000 1 calli / 2013
2 acatl / 1975 2 tecpatl / 1988 2 calli / 2001 2 tochtli / 2014
3 tecpatl / 1976 3 calli / 1989 3 tochtli / 2002 3 acatl / 2015
4 calli / 1977 4 tochtli / 1990 4 acatl / 2003 4 tecpatl / 2016
5 tochtli / 1978 5 acatl / 1991 5 tecpatl / 2004 5 calli / 2017
6 acatl / 1979 6 tecpatl / 1992 6 calli / 2005 6 tochtli / 2018
7 tecpatl / 1980 7 calli / 1993 7 tochtli / 2006 7 acatl / 2019
8 calli / 1981 8 tochtli / 1994 8 acatl / 2007 8 tecpatl / 2020
9 tochtli / 1982 9 acatl / 1995 9 tecpatl / 2008 9 calli / 2021
10 acatl / 1983 10 tecpatl / 1996 10 calli / 2009 10 tochtli / 2022
11 tecpatl / 1984 11 calli / 1997 11 tochtli / 2010 11 acatl / 2023
12 calli / 1985 12 tochtli / 1998 12 acatl / 2011 12 tecpatl / 2024
13 tochtli / 1986 13 acatl / 1999 13 tecpatl / 2012 13 calli / 2025

Reconstruction of the Solar calendar

For many centuries scholars had tried to reconstruct the Calendar. The latest and more accepted version was proposed by Professor Rafael Tena of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia,[5] based on the studies of Sahagún and Alfonso Caso of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. His correlation confirms that the first day of the Mexica year was February 13 of the old Julian calendar or February 23 of the current Gregorian calendar. Using the same count, it has been verified the date of the birth of Huitzilopochtli, the end of the year and a cycle or "Tie of the Years", and the New Fire Ceremony, day-sign 1 Tecpatl of the year 2 Acatl,[6] corresponding to the date February 22. Due to the inaccuracies of relying on post-conquest sources, Ruben Ochoa used pre-columbian sources to reconstruct the calendar. To date his calendar correlation is the most accurate as a result. [7]

See also


  1. ^ Hill Boone, Elizabeth (2016). Ciclos de tiempo y significado en los libros mexicanos del destino [Cycles of time and meaning in the Mexican books of destiny]. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica. ISBN 9786071635020.
  2. ^ Beuchat, Henri (1918). Manual de arqueología americana [Manual of American Archeology]. Madrid: Daniel Jorro. pp. 349–352.
  3. ^ Tena, 2008: 103. There he shows us a table.
  4. ^ Tena, 2008:9.
  5. ^ The Mexica Calendar and the Chronography, Rafael Tena. INAH-CONACULTA. 2008
  6. ^ Crónica Mexicayotl, Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc p 36
  7. ^ Azteca/Mexica Calendar Correlations: the Good, the Bad, and the Completely Useless, Itztli Ehecatl. 2015


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