The pre-Columbian Maya kept whole libraries of books containing
information about their history, beliefs, astronomy, and calendrics.
Most of these were destroyed during the Spanish Conquest, but four
the Paris, Dresden, Madrid, and Grolier Codices survive today.
Maya books are called codices or screen-folded manuscripts because
each book was made of a long strip of paper which was folded like
a screen. The paper was made from the inner bark of various species
of fig tree (Ficus cotonifolia, Ficus padifolia) which
was pounded into a pulp with stone implements called bark beaters.
Natural gums were used as a bonding substance to hold the pulp together.
A coating of fine white lime was applied to both sides of the paper
sheets to provide a smooth finish upon which to paint hieroglyphs,
calendrics and figures. The codices were painted on both sides of
the paper so to read them you would read along one side of the paper
strip, from left to right, and then turn the codex over and read
the other side.
Paris Codex was rediscovered in 1859 by León de Rosny in
the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Apparently it had been
forgotten after previous discoveries in the 1830’s and 1955. When
de Rosny rediscovered the codex in a basket of old papers in a chimney
corner wrapped in a piece of paper with "Pérez" written on
it. Thus the codex was first named the Codex Pérez or Peresianus.
It has also been called the Codex Mexicanus after its country of
origin. Its name has now been changed to the Paris Codex to prevent
confusion with a 19th century compilation of early Colonial Maya
writings that are now lost which is also called the Codex Pérez.
a segment (22 screen-folded pages) of the original Paris Codex has
survived. The codex pages measured 12.5 cm horizontally and 23.5
cm vertically. As the fine white lime coating has eroded from the
edges of the pages, some of the hieroglyphs and images in these
areas are now lost. The codex was painted in many colors (black,
red, turquoise, tawny, blue, pink) with the outline of the hieroglyphs
and images painted in black. For ease of viewing, only the black
outlines are reproduced in this digital image of the codex.
Paris Codex contains information on calendrical cycles, history,
and spirits, weather, and astronomy. It is unique of the four surviving
codices because it includes historical information and describes
Maya constellations. A comprehensive treatment of the Paris Codex
was published by Bruce Love in 1994: The Paris Codex, Austin:
University of Texas Press.
image numbers in this digitized version follow the sequence of pages,
when the Codex is opened to view the pages from left to right. The
2 pages, which bear the seal of the BIBLIOTHÈQUE IMPERIALE,
are the outer surfaces, when the Codex is closed. The hieroglyphics,
which are visible on the original document but came through faintly
in the photographic facsimile taken by Theodore Willard, have been
enhanced with dotted lines.
digital images of the pages of the Paris Codex in this site were
Codex Perez; An Ancient Mayan Hieroglyphic Book, A photographic
facsimile reproduced from the original in the Bibliothèque
Nationale, Paris, by Theodore A. Willard. Glendale, California:
The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1933.
in the Paris Codex are in the public domain and are not subject
to copyright restrictions. However, the Library requests users
to cite this URL and the Northwestern University Library if they
wish to reproduce files from its digitized documents collection.
and Departments involved in the project:
Mann, Bibliographer / Collection Management, NU Library
Cynthia Robin (consultant), Assistant Professor, NU Anthropology
Zellner, Multimedia Services Specialist / Digital Media Services,
Stephanie Batkie, DMS student consultant
Abby Moy, DMS student consultant
Susan Rhee, DMS student consultant
Larry Sun, DMS student consultant