Number query

John F. Schwaller schwallr at
Thu Jan 9 14:30:49 UTC 2003

From: "Ricardo J. Salvador" <salvador at>
To: Nahuat-L <nahuat-l at>

On Wednesday, January 8, 2003, at 11:27 AM, Frances Karttunen wrote:

 > Can someone direct me to a source or sources for an actual number of
 > people
 > said to have died when the Spanish forces under Pedro de Alvarado
 > attacked
 > the celebrants in the Templo Mayor?  So far as I can find, although the
 > Florentine Codex describes a great slaughter, there is no specific
 > number of
 > deaths mentioned.  Is there such a figure somewhere else?
 > I am working with a person who cites a number, but I suspect what he
 > uses is
 > the number of people calculated to have been sacrificed for the
 > dedication
 > of the temple, not the number of those killed in the Spanish attack.

I'm surprised at the difficulty of finding the number you need.
However, from what I can tell on scanning the materials on hand here,
the difference between the number of victims sacrificed at the
dedication of Huey Teocalli in 1487 and the number of people massacred
during the celebration of Toxcatl in 1520 was at least one order of
magnitude, perhaps two.

You would think that numbers would be readily forthcoming from the side
of the victims, but as you've pointed out, there are none provided by
Sahagún's informants nor in the other obvious chronicles. However, from
the Spanish side here are some referents:

López de Gómara (a problematic source) gives an upper bound for the
number of victims in the form of the number of participants in the
Toxcatl ritual:

(From 104. Causes of the Uprising): "More than six hundred (some say
more than a thousand) gentlemen, and even several lords, assembled in
the yard of the main temple, where that night they made a great hubbub
with their drums, conches, trumpets, and bone fifes,..."

So, if you accept this attestation, then the maximum possible number of
Mexica victims was on the order of 1,000.

Another Spanish source is the legal procedure against Alvarado for that
very episode (Proceso de Residencia Instruido Contra Pedro de Alvarado
y Nuño de Guzmán.) The relevant passage states (with faithful spelling):

"...el dicho Pedro Dalvarado juntó a los españoles que tenía con todas
sus armas y envió unos a la fortaleza donde estava preso el dicho
Motenzuma con muchos señores e prencipales con sus servidores e
criados... y syn causa ni razón alguna dieron sobrellos y mataron todos
los mas de los señores que estavan presos con el dicho Motenzuma y
mataron cuatro cientos señores e prencipales que con él estavan e
mataron mucho numero de yndios que estavan baylando en mas cantidad de
tres mil personas por lo qual la tierra se also viendo que syn razon
los matavan..."

So, again if you accept these highly charged accusations, levied after
the conquest and whence the various parties were attempting to settle
various scores against one another, the outer bound can be no larger
than the actual number of Mexica participants in the festivities.

These numbers, poor as they are in terms of trustworthiness, are the
only concrete claims I've found after browsing all the relevant texts
and native chronicles I've got here. They contrast markedly with the
claims made for number of victims in 1487. Yólotl Gonzáles Torres (El
Sacrificio Humano Entre los Mexicas) sets the range of possible victims
there from the low bound of 2,500 captives contributed by 28 towns from
Tepeaca (per Tezozómoc) to 20,000 (per Telleriano Remensis Codex),
though he thinks even that claim is conflated with the fact that all
who attended the dedication bled themselves and so also "sacrificed."
He discounts as logistically impossible the famous claim from the
Annals of Cuauhtitlan that 80,400 men were sacrificed. There are also
intermediate claims, but the key thing is that it ought to be possible
to distinguish the number of victims of the two events you want to
separate. Victims of the temple dedication seem to number in the 10s of
thousands, whereas victims of the Toxcatl massacre were in the hundreds
and perhaps low thousands.

Sorry that no more definitive numbers seem to be available. I repeat
that I'm surprised (I thought for sure it would pop out of any number
of the native chronicles compiled by León-Portilla in "Visión de los
Vencidos," but no luck.)

Ricardo J. Salvador          Voice: 515.294.9595
1126 Agronomy Hall         Telefax: 515.294.8146
Iowa State University        e-mail: salvador at
Ames, IA 50011-1010       WWW:

More information about the Nahuat-l mailing list