Codex Borgia: History, Characteristics And Content

The Codex Borgia is a book that collects a series of Mesoamerican manuscripts related to divination. It is considered by archeology scholars as one of the most important artistic representations and a pictorial trace of the beliefs of ancient Mexico.

It is part of one of the few pre-Columbian documents that are preserved today. Upon examining it in detail, it is determined that it was painted before the arrival of the Spanish to Mexican lands, an assertion that is made because its design does not contain any European influence.

To date its true origin is unknown. There are those who believe that they could be from the towns of Puebla or Tlaxaca, since in these regions archaeological paintings and murals have been found with characteristics similar to those of the Borgia group.


Chroniclers believe it was drawn in the 15th century, sent to Spain in the 16th century, and later to Italy. Thus, its history spans at least 500 years.

In 1805, the father of modern universal geography, Alexander von Humboldt saw him in Rome for the first time. At that time it was among the belongings of Cardinal Stefano Borgia, who had died a year earlier and who is named after him.

It was acquired by the Vatican Apostolic Library in 2004 and since then it has been sheltered.

The first to publicly comment on the importance of these manuscripts was a friend of Stefano Borgia, José Lino Fábrega, whose work was published in 1899. In it, among other notes, he comments that it is a system used by Mexicans to make the time reckoning.

In 1982, the Dumbraton Oakes Study Program in Washington held a debate to investigate the origin of the manuscripts and, although leading historians participated, it has not been possible to pinpoint where they were drawn. However, research points to Puebla or Tlaxcala in Mexico.

Like most pre-Columbian manuscripts, it was produced by scribe priests. Its purpose was to capture history and religion to leave evidence in time.

They were also used in religious ceremonies and it is believed that with them prophecies were made such as what were the convenient days for merchants to travel, what awaited men in marriage, the results of war and even the fate of the newly born.


The Codex Borgia was made on folded deerskin, there are 39 sheets drawn on both sides that are read from right to left. Only the last page has a face. This means 76 folded pages of old content. To protect it, wood cuttings were placed above and below, some covers that are no longer preserved.

Each of the manuscripts measures approximately 26 by 27.5 centimeters, totaling about 11 meters. The pages have irregular edges, in the layers you can see the corrections made by those who worked on them, even in some there are sketches.

At the time the Codex Borgia was made, strips of animal skin used for manuscripts were folded accordion-shaped and covered by a layer of white plaster. In this way, the priests could write on the material with organic and mineral pigment.

Some parts of the Codex Borgia show burns. According to the story, Cardinal Stefano Borgia went to a palace to visit some friends and observed how some children threw parts of a book into the fireplace, he approached and rescued antiquity. That was how it came to him.


To understand the content of the codex, it is necessary to know about the beliefs of the ancient Mexicans. They were convinced that the gods appeared on earth every day to influence everything that happened.

From this dogma was born the need to keep a record of the influence of the divinities, which is why it was carried out in the form of manuscripts or also called codices. Only the so-called tonalpouh priests who had the ability to interpret these images.

In the pictorial content there are days and ruling gods on the 13 floors of the Mexican sky and the 9 of the underworld under the earth, existing according to ancient belief. The content of the Codex Borgia is divided into topics as follows:

The days 

The calendar had 20 days and each one was accompanied by a graphic representation . They had names associated with natural phenomena, plants, animals or objects.

You can see two types of images, the name of the day whose illustration is whole and another where only a part of the drawing appears. They mastered:










– Crooked Grass



-Necklace Eagle








These 20 signs were combined with 13 numbers respectively. In such a way that 1 corresponded to the alligator and so on until reaching the collared eagle. On the 14th, called eagle, the count was resumed from the 1st because the divisions were made into thirteen.

But they were never the same, throughout the year 20 thirteen were formed that added up to 260 days, always starting with a different animal.

The gods

Throughout the codex a large number of male and female deities were drawn. The sexes are distinguished because women wear dresses and men the well-known maxtlatl or loincloth.

Each day had a patron God with very specific characteristics, although the majority coincided in headdresses and clothing. In total there are 21 deities:

-The Lord of Our Flesh

-Snake of Feathers

-Heart of the Mountain

-The Old Coyote or God of Music

-The Lady of the Terrestrial Waters

-The Goddess of the Moon

-God of rain

-Tlaloc, Lord of the Waters

-The Goddess of Maguey

-Lord of Fire, Lord of Turquoise or Lord of the Year

-God of Death

-The Noble Lord of Flowers

-The God of Medicines

-God of Providence (Tezcatlipoca Negro)

-Goddess of Lust

-God of Providence (Red Tezcatlipoca)

-Patrress of Women who died in childbirth

-God of Sunset

-God of Disease and Plagues

-God of the Sun

-Goddess of Beauty.

Images of the deities (video 1):

Images of the deities (video 2):

By sections 

In each of the pages there is information that helps to understand how religion lived in ancient Mexico. The Codex Borgia can also be explained as follows:

-First section: there are the symbols of the 260 days of the calendar distributed in columns of five.

-Second section: the pages are precisely divided into four parts and in each one appears the symbol of the day with its ruling God.

-Third section: it is divided into nine parts for the same number of “lords of the nocturnal nights”

-Fourth section: is related to the guardians of the periods of Venus . They are four quadrants arranged in three leaves, each with a deity.

-Fifth section: represents the journey of Venus through the underworld, there are images related to cults and beheadings. In this part of the manuscripts the importance of human sacrifice in ancient Mexican culture is very well represented.

-Sixth section: shows the four regions of the world corresponding to the cardinal points.


  1. José Lino Fábrega (1899) Interpretation of the Borgiano codex. Postuma work
  2. Crystyna M. Libura (2,000). The days and gods of the Codex Borgia
  3. Nelly Gutierrez Solana (1992) Codices of Mexico, history and interpretation of the great pre-Hispanic painted books.
  4. Gisele Díaz, Alan Rodgers (1993) The Codex Borgia: A Full-Color Restoration of the Ancient Mexican Manuscript.
  5. Krystyna Libura (2,000). The days and the gods of the Codex Borgia.

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