Ancient Maya Texts: The Madrid Codex

The Madrid Codex is the third Maya codex, which a paleography professor had purchased in 1860 because he had an interest in ancient manuscripts. In this article, you will learn the journey the codex took to get recognized and the information that it contains.

Juan de Tro y Ortolano had the Madrid Codex in his possession for six years before a French-American named Abbé Brasseur de Bourboug identified it as a Maya codex. In honor of Juan de Tro y Ortolano for allowing him to publish the codex, de Bourboug was named the Tro Codex (which is referred to as the Madrid Codex).

The third Maya codex wound up in 1860 Spain in the hands of Juan de Tro y Ortolano, a paleography professor who had bought it because of his interest in ancient manuscripts. Six years later Abbé Brasseur de Bourboug (1814-74), a notable French-American, identified it as a Maya codex, naming it the Tro Codex in honor of Juan de Tro y Ortolano, who gave him permission to publish it.

A few years had passed and a Spaniard named Juan Palacios offered what he believed was a fourth Maya codex to the Imperial Library in Paris and the British Museum in London. Neither institution was interested in buying the document, so it remained unsold until 1872, when a Spanish collector named José Ignacio Miró got a hold of it. In 1875, Miro sold the codex to the archeological museum in Madrid. It was given the name Codex Cortesianus because it was thought that the codex once belonged to Hernán Cortés. It was that same year that Léon de Rosny traveled to Madrid to analyze the document.

In the end, Rosny concluded that the supposed fourth document was actually part of the Tro Codex. He renamed both documents the Tro-Cortesianus Codex. However, it wasn’t until 1888 that the two manuscripts were joined together. Professor Tro y Ortolano’s son had to sell his section to the Archaeological Museum of Madrid before this could happen. The fragments of what is now known as the Madrid Codex have not been separated since, and can be found at the Madrid Archaeological Museum.

Out of all the codices, the Tro-Cortesianus Codex is the longest and best preserved , measuring 6.7 meters long and consisting of 56 sheets that are folded like a screen. In total, it is 112 pages. The text contains information that assisted priests in making predictions.

Divided into 11 sections, the first nine pages reference rituals for the gods Kukulcán and Itzamná. The second section highlight bad omens concerning crops and lists offerings that should be made if one wishes to regulate rainfall. The third section is devoted to 52 ritual years. The remaining eight sections offer information regarding hunting, death, purification, calendars and other significant points that helped the Mayas thrive.
No one is sure where the Madrid Codex originated from, but some have theorized that it was in the west of the Yucatan Peninsula in Champoton, Mexico. Researchers have dated the records to the 13th and 15th centuries.