Stone of Tizoc

Image of Gladiatorial Sacrifice

Image of gladiatorial sacrifice from Florentine Codex 

Temalácatl,  or “round stone,” as translated from Nahuatl is a sculptural, sacrificial stone that was used in various ways within Mexica society. As noted by Friar Diego Durán in his Book of Rites and Ceremonies, he detailed the sacrificial ritual in which the victim walking up to a stone as an honorific gesture to the gods. [1][2] These temalácatls were also referred to as sun stone, because the sacrifices were made to the sun, the cosmos, and associated deities. One of these major temalácatls that displays a wealth of information on the Mexica society is the Stone of Tizoc. Found in 1791 at the Plaza del Empedradillo, which is now located across from the Museo del Templo Mayor and the Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de México, the monument was first called the Sacrifice Stone. [3] The Stone of Tizoc was used for both honorific and sacrificial purposes as seen in its shape as well as in the iconography.

The Stone of Tizoc stands approximately three feet high and about eight feet across in diameter. The top face of this basalt mounment has four arrows pointing in the cardinal directions. [4] There are date glyphs that commemorate the time of tlatoani, the Nahuatl word for emoperor, Tizoc’s reign in Tenochtitlan which lasted from the years 1481 until 1486.[5] Identifying Tizoc on this stone is a hummingbird feather Huitzilopochtli headdress, perpetuating this idea of Tizoc being deified and powerful and honoring him as a ruler.[6]  One of the most interesting parts on the stone is the long divet that runs along the top of the stone’s face, cutting through the iconographic glyphs ans symbols. This divot shows two different potential usages: one as a sun dial, and the other as a drain for blood.

 Reading Durán’s accounts of Mexica sacrificial rituals, he states the the victim would stand atop of a temalácatl, like the Stone of Tizoc, which would be located next to a cuauhxicalli, which is the stone monument that would be used to hold the heart of the victim. The blood would then be drained down the stone and gather in the basin of the cuauhxicalli. This was done to appease certain deities associated with the cosmos. Sacrificial stones, like the Stone of Tizoc, were tied to the sacrificial victim with an aztamécatl, which is a white cord. It is a symbol used in the ritual that refers to the struggles of battle and war. These types of ritual sacrifices were used in what are known as “gladiatorial sacrifices,”[7] which is shown in the iconography on the Stone of Tizoc as well.

The crevice at the top of the face of the stone continues to run down the side and into the mouth of Tlaltecuhtili, the earth monster deity. The Stone of Tizoc could have been involved in Mexica sacrificial ritual, or at least symbolizes the blood that was to be sacrificed to appease the earth monster deity. It can also be interpreted as being the sacrifice that Tizoc made when becoming ruler and continuing on with attempting to conquer various other Mexica tribes in surrounding areas. The iconography on the surrounding band shows the fifteen defeated tribes were the warriors are holding the defeated tribesmen in the classic Mexica headlock, where the front tuft of hair is gathered into the strong grip of a Mexica warrior. This is interesting to point out, due to the fact that it was known that Tizoc was a poor military ruler during his five-year reign. The Stone of Tizoc seems to have not only been used in sacrificial ritual, but also to propagate the idea that Tizoc was a successful military ruler, when in fact he was not.[8]

The overall composition of the stone serves to narrate the reign of tlatoani Tizoc. It tells of the cosmos being in control of this chosen ruler and the events that occurred during his reign. Showing power and deification by portraying Tizoc in a Huitzilopochtli headdress, the Stone of Tizoc also served to show Tizoc’s power. However, by showing the conquering of fifteen other tribes under his reign serves to show that the Stone of Tizoc was also used as a propaganda piece to give him more power then he probably deserved. This Mexica monument shows the various ways in which temalácatls were used in Mexica culture.

[1] Diego Durán

[2] Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, page 104

[3] Ibid. page 110

[4] Mark Cartwright

[5] Johanna Broda, page 39

[6] Richard Townsend

[7] Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, page 106

[8] Johanna Broda, page 168


Brenna Keeley