The Tribute Registration, the economic support of the Triple Alliance


The power and expansion of the Mexica empire, from what is now San Luis Potosí to Guatemala, would not be understood without the taxation that forced the conquered peoples to support the so-called Triple Alliance (Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tacuba).

The special edition 101 of the Mexican Archeology magazine is still circulating, which presents a facsimile reproduction of the Tribute Matrícula, or Moctezuma Codex, one of the valuable documents that the National Library of Anthropology and History safeguards, which records on 32 sheets of amate paper the species and amounts of tribute that 326 towns grouped in 39 provinces had to pay, as well as the delivery periods that had to be met.

Thanks to what today we would call the fiscal law of the Mexica empire, we know that the peoples of Chiapas paid taxes on amber, cocoa, green stone (jade), bird feathers, ocelot and jaguar skins; that those from the Gulf paid with huipiles and blankets, chile, cocoa, warrior costumes, turquoise and seashells; that the towns of Oaxaca offered gold, corn and grana; that live eagles and mantas arrived from San Luis Potosí; and that from the State of Mexico and the coasts of Guerrero they sent beans, chia, amaranth, cotton, shells and salt.

A little history

This document of an economic-administrative nature dating from the 16th century was prepared in the tradition of the tlacuilos, most likely before contact with the Spaniards. According to Miguel León-Portilla, it belongs to a genre related to public administration, that of the tequiámatl, “papers or records of tributes”, and “gives a precise account of the tributes that the Mexica and their allies should have received in the times immediately prior to the conquest”.

It owes its name to Lorenzo Boturini, who registered it in his Indian Historical Museum as “A record of tributes that were paid to the kingdoms of Mexico and Tlatilulco by the subject provinces.” After his collection of documents was seized, it passed through various institutions until it was kept in the National Museum. In 1820 it suffered the loss of two of its pages, which were taken to Philadelphia and then returned to Mexico in 1942.

The facsimile edition in Mexican Archeology

Mexican Archeology first published an edition of La Matrícula de Tributos in 2003 (Special Edition No. 14). Almost twenty years later, a completely new edition is presented, which preserves the original presentation text written by Miguel León-Portilla, with updated cartography, maps that guide the location referred to in each of the plates, and adds an appendix that contains the sheets of the Codex Mendoza that complete the information that was missing in La Matrícula….

“What the reader has in his hands is the minimum information necessary to approach La Matrícula…, a manuscript of enormous wealth and key to understanding various aspects of the political and economic structures of pre-Hispanic Mexico,” says editor Enrique Vela.

The Tribute Registration is one of the more than one hundred documents of its kind that the National Museum of Anthropology keeps in its library. In 2014 he was part of the temporary exhibition Códices de México. Memorias y Saberes, which is still available in a virtual edition.

In the words of Archbishop Francisco Antonio de Lorenzana, the first editor of this document around 1770, “in these fragments one sees the most authentic testimony of the opulence, greatness and majesty of this Mexican empire.”

[email protected]



Leave a Comment