Historic Nahua manuscript gets digital treatment from UCLA and Getty

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Pages from the Florentine Codex show water creatures. Courtesy of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, and by permission of MiBACT.

For centuries, a rich manuscript documenting the culture and customs of the Nahua people sat archived in the Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy. Kevin Terraciano, the chair of UCLA’s history department, and a team of UCLA and Getty researchers set out to make this manuscript –– called the Florentine Codex –– easily accessible by digitizing the entire document.

The project, which started in 2015, was completed and launched online last week. 

“The digital site is amazing, in that it brings together all of the resources –– translations, analyses –– and makes it searchable. And the information, that is all in one place, is an incredible resource not only for scholars, but for the general public,” Terraciano says.

The Florentine Codex is significant for providing insight into Nahua civilization, told directly by the Indigenous population. All 12 volumes of the manuscript, which include over 2,500 pages of text and images, were written and hand-drawn by the Nahua, in their native Nahuatl language with assistance from Spanish Franciscan friars.

“[The Florentine Codex] is really an encyclopedia … it’s a creation of two cultures coming together in Mexico during the 16th century,” Terraciano says.

Spanish friar Bernardino de Sahagún originally commissioned the manuscript to understand Nahua belief systems, as a way to eventually convert them to Catholicism. 

After the Florentine Codex was completed in 1577, it ended up in Italy, where the Medici family archived it in their library. This was a lucky stroke of history, Terraciano explains, because in Spain it would have “probably been destroyed by the Spanish Inquisition” due to its detail of Nahua religion.



  • Kevin Terraciano - chair of UCLA’s history department and co-founder of the Florentine Codex digitization project