Aztec Calendar

The Aztec calendar is worth studying. It was designed quite scientifically. The calendar, that consisted of a 365-day cycle and 260-day ritual cycle gives us an idea of the mathematical precision of the Aztecs in the pre-Columbian Mexico.

They were the architects of large cities in Europe and had deep inclination towards religion. As part of their religious practices, these people built monumental temples and used to get engaged in colourful ceremonies. The Aztec civilization had a tremendous impact in ancient Mexico until 1521, when the Spaniards conquered them.

Their calendar is considered one from the Mesoamerican era. It shared the basic characteristics of all ancient Mesoamerican calendars. Interestingly, these people used two different calendars - one catered to measurement of time and the other was used to fix religious rituals. History says that these people used their time-measuring calendar to fix the time for planting crops and the religious calendar was used for worshipping.

The time-measuring calendar had months comprising of 20 days each. However, the number of days was fixed to 365 like we follow today. There were 18 months in the calendar. The so-called “normal” days amounted to 360. Surprisingly, each year had provision of 5 extra days. These were the days when it was superstitiously considered that bad-luck would take over and something evil might happen. If a child was born on a bad day, it had to wait for a good day to receive its name. This measure was taken to ward off evil effects.

The religious calendar was called the “tonalpohualli”, meaning the “count of days”. The calendar was divided into 13 months comprising of 20 days each. Each day had a rotating name and was supposed to be under the protection of a God. Each day also had a symbol attached to it. For instance, the day count in the calendar began with 1-Crocodile and thereafter it continued with 2-wind, 3-house, 4-lizard etc. The day was reset to 1 after the completion of the 13-day cycle.

Both the religious and time calendars of the Aztecs ran together and the same day in each coincided once in every 52 years. The time was divided into 52-year cycles, much similar to the concept of our centuries.

Historians agree that the calendar of the Aztecs rested on two pillars- Mathematics and Design. The numbers that were historically significant were derived from mathematical progression. The number factor is considered to play a crucial role in framing the symbolic design of the Aztec calendar that has mesmerized our historians for centuries.

 

Joseph Paige 2006

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