Death was shown by a corpse wrapped for burial, night by a
black sky and a closed eye, war by a shield and a club, or speech by a little scroll
issuing from the mouth of the person who is talking.
Aztec names could usually be written in glyphs. The name of
the Emperor Acamapichtli means 'Handful of Reeds' and his glyph is a forearm with the hand
grasping a bundle of stalks. Chimalpopoca, the name of the next ruler but one, means
'Smoking Shield', and his successor was Itzcoatl or 'Obsidian Snake'.
There were also sounds in Aztec writing. Every word in
spoken language has a sound as well as a meaning. The symbol for teeth (tiantli in the
Aztec language) sounds as 'tlan'; the glyph for tree or forest (quauill) sounds 'quauh', a
stone (tell) for 'te', a mountain (tepeti) for 'tepe', and so on.
The sign for the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán, was a stone
(tell) from which sprouted a prickly pear cactus (nochili); Tochtepecan was indicated by a
rabbit (tochtli) above a mountain (tepeti); quauhtitlan by a tree (quauitl) with teeth
(tiantli), quauhnauac by a tree with a speech scroll issuing from it (nahuall -speech).
A priest is always shown with his face painted black, his
hair long, and his ear-lobe stained red from blood-letting. An old person can be
recognized by the lines which show the wrinkles on his face.
Color was also important. The signs for grass, canes, and
rushes look very much the same in black and white, but in color there could be no mistake:
in the Codex Mendoza grass is yellow, canes are blue, rushes green.
It's fun trying to work out what Aztec
pictures mean. Look at the evidence.