Aztec calendar

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.

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.

ImageNahuatl namePronunciationEnglish translationDirection
Crocodilian Monster
ImageNahuatl namePronunciationEnglish translationDirection
Flint Knife

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:

1 CrocodileŌmeteōtl1 MonkeyPatecatl
1 JaguarQuetzalcoatl1 LizardItztlacoliuhqui
1 DeerTepēyōllōtl1 QuakeTlazōlteōtl
1 FlowerHuēhuecoyōtl1 DogXīpe Totēuc
1 ReedChalchiuhtlicue1 HouseItzpapalotl
1 DeathTōnatiuh1 VultureXolotl
1 RainTlāloc1 WaterChalchiuhtotolin
1 GrassMayahuel1 WindChantico
1 SnakeXiuhtecuhtli1 EagleXōchiquetzal
1 FlintMictlāntēcutli1 RabbitXiuhtecuhtli


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 timeSahagún timeFiesta namesSymbolEnglish translation
1Mar 1 – Mar 20Feb 2 – Feb 21Atlcahualo, CuauhitlehuaCeasing of Water, Rising Trees
2Mar 21 – Apr 9Feb 22 – Mar 13TlacaxipehualiztliRites of Fertility; Xipe-Totec ("the flayed one")
3Apr 10 – Apr 29Mar 14 – Apr 2TozoztontliLesser Perforation
4Apr 30 – May 19Apr 3 – Apr 22Huey TozoztliGreater Perforation
5May 20 – Jun 8Apr 23 – May 12TōxcatlDryness
6Jun 9 – Jun 28May 13 – Jun 1EtzalcualiztliEating Maize and Beans
7Jun 29 – July 18Jun 2 – Jun 21TecuilhuitontliLesser Feast for the Revered Ones
8July 19 – Aug 7Jun 22 – Jul 11Huey TecuilhuitlGreater Feast for the Revered Ones
9Aug 8 – Aug 27Jul 12 – Jul 31Tlaxochimaco, MiccailhuitontliBestowal or Birth of Flowers, Feast to the Revered Deceased
10Aug 28 – Sep 16Aug 1 – Aug 20Xócotl huetzi, Huey MiccailhuitlFeast to the Greatly Revered Deceased
11Sept 17 – Oct 6Aug 21 – Sept 9OchpaniztliSweeping and Cleaning
12Oct 7 – Oct 26Sept 10 – Sept 29TeotlecoReturn of the Gods
13Oct 27 – Nov 15Sept 30 – Oct 19TepeilhuitlFeast for the Mountains
14Nov 16 – Dec 5Oct 20 – Nov 8QuecholliPrecious Feather
15Dec 6 – Dec 25Nov 9 – Nov 28PānquetzaliztliRaising the Banners
16Dec 26 – Jan 14Nov 29 – Dec 18AtemoztliDescent of the Water
17Jan 15 – Feb 3Dec 19 – Jan 7TititlStretching for Growth
18Feb 4 – Feb 23Jan 8 – Jan 27IzcalliEncouragement for the Land & People
18uFeb 24 – Feb 28Jan 28 – Feb 1nēmontēmi (5 day period)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.

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


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