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Disk depicting a dismembered Coyolxāuhqui, which was found during construction in 1978 in Mexico City. Its discovery led to the excavation of the Huēyi Teōcalli.

In Aztec religion, Coyolxāuhqui (Nahuatl pronunciation: [kojoɬˈʃaːʍki], "Painted with Bells"[1]) is a daughter of the priestess Cōātlīcue ("Serpent Skirt"). She was the leader of her brothers, the Centzon Huitznahuas ("Four Hundred Huiztnaua").[1] She led her brothers in an attack against their mother, Cōātlīcue, when they learned she was pregnant, convinced she dishonored them all.[2] The attack is thwarted by Coyolxāuhqui's other brother, Huitzilopochtli, the national deity of the Mexicas.[1]

In 1978, workers at an electric company accidentally discovered a large stone relief depicting Coyolxāuhqui in Mexico City. The discovery of the Coyolxāuhqui stone led to a large-scale excavation, directed by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, to unearth the Huēyi Teōcalli (Templo Mayor in English).[3] The prominent position of the Coyolxāuhqui stone suggests the importance of her defeat by Huitzilopochtli in Aztec religion and national identity.[1][4]


Birth of Huitzilopochtli and Coyolxauqui's Defeat at CoatepecEdit

On the summit of Coatepec ("Serpent Mountain"), sat a shrine for Coatlicue, the maternal Earth deity. One day, as she swept her shrine, a ball of hummingbird feathers fell from the sky. She "snatched them up; she placed them at her waist."[5] Thus, she became pregnant with the Aztec deity Huitzilopochtli.

Huitzilopochtli springs from Coatlicue's womb fully armed and defends himself and his mother against Coyolxauhqui. He dismembers his sister, and fights his 400 brothers, the Centzon Huitznahuas

Her miraculous pregnancy embarrassed Coatlicue's other children, including her eldest daughter, Coyolxauhqui. Hearing of her pregnancy, the Centzon Huitznahuas, led by Coyolxauhqui, decided to kill Coatlicue. As they prepared for battle and gathered at the base of Coatepec, one of the Centzon Huitznahuas, Quauitlicac, warned Huitzilophochtli of the attack while he was in utero. Hearing of the attack, the pregnant Cōātlīcue miraculously gave birth to a fully grown and armed Huitzilopochtli who sprang from her womb, wielding "his shield, teueuelli, and his darts and his blue dart thrower, called xinatlatl."[5]

Huitzilopochtli killed Coyolxāuhqui, beheading her and throwing her body down the side of Coatepec: "He pierced Coyolxauhqui, and then quickly struck off her head. It stopped there at the edge of Coatepetl. And her body came falling below; it fell breaking to pieces; in various places her arms, her legs, her body each fell."[5] As for his brothers, the Centzon Huitxnahuas, he scattered them in all directions from the top of Coatepec. He pursued them relentlessly, and those who escaped went south.[5]

Some authors have written that Huitzilopochtli tossed Coyolxauhqui's head into the sky where it became the moon, so that his mother would be comforted in seeing her daughter in the sky every night, and that her scattered brothers became the Southern Star deities.[6] It is difficult to verify these variations of the narrative with 16th century sources.

Templo Mayor stone diskEdit

Original coloration of the stone disk, based on chemical traces of pigments.

In 1978, workers at an electric company found a large shield-shaped stone relief reflecting the narrative of Coyolxauhqui's defeat at Coatepec. Their discovery led to the excavation of the Huēyi Teōcalli (Templo Mayor), directed by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma.[3] The stone sat at the base of the stairs of the Huēyi Teōcalli, the primary temple of the Mexica in Tenochtitlan, on the side dedicated to Huitzilopochtli.[7] The temple is dedicated to Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc, the rain deity.[4] Scholars believe that Mexica artists and builders incorporated images of the Coatepec narrative into the Huēyi Teōcalli during a major renovation from the years 4 Reed to 8 Reed (1483-1487) under the rule of Ahuitzotl.[4] Matos Moctezuma has argued that the section of the Huēyi Teōcalli dedicated to Huitzilopochtli represents the sacred mountain of Coatepec where Huitzilopochtli was born and Coyolxauhqui died.[7]

Head of Coyolxauhqui; circa 1500; diorite; 80 x 80 x 65 cm; National Museum of Anthropology (Mexico City). As usual, she is shown decapitated and with closed eyelids, as she was beheaded by her brother, Huitzilopochtli

On the disk, Coyolxauhqui is shown spread out on her side, with her head, arms and legs chopped from her body. The areas of decapitation and dismemberment are expressed through scallop-shaped carving at her neck, shoulders, and hip joints. In the colorated image to the right, the viewer can see the white bones emerging from the scalloped areas of dismemberment. She is distinguished by bells in her hair, a bell symbol on her cheek, and a feathered headdress. an ear tab showing the Mexica year sign. As with images of her mother, she is shown with a skull tied to a belt of snakes around her waist.

Scholars also believe that the decapitation and destruction of Coyolxauhqui is reflected in the pattern of warrior ritual sacrifice, particularly during the feast of Panquetzaliztli (Banner Raising). The feast takes place in the 15th month of the Aztec calendar and is dedicated to Huitzilopochtli.[8] During the ceremony, captives’ hearts were cut out and their bodies were thrown down the temple stairs to the Coyolxauhqui stone. There, they were decapitated and dismembered, just as Coyolxauhqui was by Huitzilopochtli on Coatepec.[7]

A replica of the Templo Mayor disk sits on City Terrace Drive in East Los Angeles.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Townsend, Richard F. (2009). The Aztecs. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-500-28791-0.
  2. ^ "The Legend of Coatlicue & Coyolxauhqui". Inside Mexico. Retrieved 2015-10-29.
  3. ^ a b Townsend, Richard F (2009). The Aztecs. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-500-28791-0.
  4. ^ a b c León-Portilla, Miguel (October 1983). "The Ethnohistorical Record for the Huey Teocalli of Tenochtitlan". The Aztec Templo Mayor: A Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks: 79, 81.
  5. ^ a b c d Sahagún, Bernadino (1569). Florentine Codex Book 3.
  6. ^ Durán, Fray Diego (1964). Heyden, Doris; Horcasitas, Fernando, eds. The Aztecs: The History of the Indies of New Spain. Orion Press. p. 347.
  7. ^ a b c Matos Moctezuma, Eduardo (October 1983). "Symbolism of the Templo Mayor". The Aztec Templo Mayor: A Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks: 192.
  8. ^ Juan, de Tovar (1585). The Tovar Codex.

External linksEdit

  Media related to Coyolxāuhqui at Wikimedia Commons