The Dresden Codex
(a.k.a. Codex Dresdensis) is an ancient Mayan
book of the eleventh or twelfth century of the Yucatecan Maya in Chichén Itzá
. The Maya codex
is believed to be a copy of an original text of some three or four hundred years earlier. Historians say it is the earliest known book written in the Americas.
Johann Christian Götze, Director of the Royal Library at Dresden
, purchased the codex from a private owner in Vienna in 1739. How it got to Vienna is unknown. It is speculated that it was sent by Hernán Cortés
as a tribute to King Charles I of Spain
in 1519. Charles had appointed Cortés governor and captain general of the newly conquered Mexican territory. It has been in Europe ever since. Götze gave it to the state library of Saxony
, the Royal Library in Dresden, in 1744. The library first published the codex in 1848.
The library that held the codex was bombed and suffered serious damage during World War II. The Dresden Codex was heavily water damaged during the Dresden Fire Storms. Twelve pages of the codex were harmed and other parts of the codex were destroyed. The codex was meticulously restored after this damage. In spite of this according to historian Salvador Toscano it is still a faithful representation of the precocity and elegance of the ancient Maya.
The Dresden Codex is considered the most complete of the four remaining American codices. The names of the four codices indicate where they were kept originally. The Dresden Codex is made from Amatl paper ("kopó", fig-bark that has been flattened and covered with a lime paste), doubled in folds in an accordion-like form of folding-screen texts. The codex of bark paper is coated with fine stucco
and is eight inches high by eleven feet long.
The Dresden Codex was written by eight different scribes using both sides. They all had their own particular writing style, glyphs and subject matter. The codex totals 74 pages in length. Its images were painted with extraordinary clarity using very fine brushes. The basic colors used from vegetable dyes for the codex were red, black and the so-called Mayan blue.
The Dresden Codex contains astronomical tables of outstanding accuracy. Contained in the codex are almanacs,
astronomical and astrological tables, and religious references. The specific god references have to do with a 260 day ritual count divided up in several ways. The Dresden Codex contains predictions for agriculture favorable timing. It has information on rainy seasons, floods, illness and medicine. It also seems to show conjunctions of constellations, planets and the Moon. It is most famous for its Venus table.
- Ruggles, Clive L. N., Ancient Astronomy, ABC-CLIO, 2005, ISBN 1-8510947-7-6
- Aveni, Anthony F., Empires of Time, Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2000, ISBN 1-8606460-2-6
- Sharer, Robert J. et al, The Ancient Maya, Stanford University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-8047481-7-9
- Anzovin, Steven et al, Famous First Facts International Edition, H. W. Wilson Company (2000), ISBN 0-8242-0958-3
- Thompson, J. Eric, A Commentary on the Dresden Codex: A Maya Hieroglyphic Book, Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1972
- Teresi, Dich, Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science—from the Babylonians to the Maya, Simon and Schuster, 2002, ISBN 0-6848371-8-8