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Tonatiuh: Exploring the Aztec Sun God

Tonatiuh is an Aztec sun deity of the daytime sky who rules the cardinal direction of east. Represented as a fierce and warlike god, he is first seen in Early Postclassic art. According to Aztec mythology, Tonatiuh was known as “The Fifth Sun” and was given a calendar name of naui olin, which means “4 Movement”.

In most myths of the Mesoamerican Nahua peoples, including those of the Aztecs, four eras preceded the era of Tonatiuh, each ended by cataclysmic destruction. Tonatiuh, or Ollin Tonatiuh, was associated with the eagle (at sunrise and sunset) and, in Aztec versions, with the deity Huitzilopochtli. Tonatiuh was the name of the current sun god in Aztec cosmology, created by the sacrifice of Nanahuatzin and set in motion by Ehecatl.

Tonatiuh was also the patron of warriors, especially of the jaguar and eagle orders, and the patron of the Fifth Sun era. It was thought that only the regular offering of hearts from sacrificial victims would nourish Tonatiuh so that he had the strength to reign supreme in the skies and battle each night the forces of darkness. The name Tonatiuh means “he who goes forth shining” or “he who makes the day.”

Mythology of Tonatiuh

Aztec Sun God

Tonatiuh is a central figure in Aztec mythology and was worshipped as the god of the sun. According to Aztec belief, Tonatiuh was the fifth sun, who was created by the gods after the previous four suns had been destroyed. Tonatiuh’s journey across the sky each day was believed to sustain life on earth, and his descent in the west and ascension in the east was thought to symbolize the cycle of life and death.

Symbolism and Importance

Tonatiuh’s symbolic association with the eagle alludes to the Aztec belief of his journey as the present sun, travelling across the sky each day. It was thought that his journey was sustained by the daily sacrifice of humans. Tonatiuh was also associated with war and sacrifice, as his journey was believed to require the sacrifice of warriors to sustain it. The importance of Tonatiuh in Aztec culture is reflected in the many temples and monuments dedicated to his worship, including the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan.

Tonatiuh’s mythology also includes his creation through the sacrifice of the god Nanahuatzin. Some interpretations hold that Nanahuatzin was not destroyed, however, and was instead merely transformed. According to such interpretations, Tonatiuh was Nanahuatzin or was of Nanahuatzin. This mythological story reflects the Aztec belief in the cyclical nature of life and death, and the importance of sacrifice in maintaining the balance of the universe.

Overall, Tonatiuh’s mythology is a rich and complex part of Aztec culture, reflecting their beliefs about the sun, life, death, and sacrifice.

Cultural Significance

Tonatiuh held significant cultural importance in Aztec mythology and culture. He was considered the fifth sun and the god of the daytime sky. Tonatiuh’s role in Aztec culture is reflected in the various rituals, ceremonies, and artistic representations associated with him.

Rituals and Ceremonies

Tonatiuh was often honored through various rituals and ceremonies. One such ceremony was the New Fire Ceremony, which was held every 52 years to renew the sun’s energy and prevent the end of the world. During this ceremony, priests would light a new fire using a wooden drill, and the people would extinguish their own fires and relight them from the new fire. This ceremony was a symbol of the sun’s power and the renewal of life.

Artistic Representations

Tonatiuh’s significance is also reflected in the artistic representations of him in Aztec culture. He is often depicted as a vibrant and colorful disc, representing the powerful and radiant sun. In addition, he is sometimes depicted with a headdress of eagle feathers, symbolizing his connection to the eagle, which was considered a sacred bird in Aztec culture. Tonatiuh was also often depicted in Aztec codices, or books, which were used to record historical events and religious beliefs.

Overall, Tonatiuh was a significant figure in Aztec culture and mythology. His importance is reflected in the various rituals, ceremonies, and artistic representations associated with him.

Astronomical Associations

Tonatiuh, the Aztec sun god, has been associated with various astronomical phenomena throughout history. Here are some of the most notable associations:

The Fifth Sun

Tonatiuh is most commonly associated with the fifth and final era, known as the Fifth Sun, in the Mesoamerican creation myth. According to this myth, Tonatiuh was responsible for creating the current era by sacrificing himself and becoming the sun. As a result, he is often depicted as a powerful and revered god.

Calendar Connections

Tonatiuh is also closely linked to the Aztec calendar, which was based on the movements of the sun. Specifically, Tonatiuh was associated with the 13-day period known as a trecena, which marked the transition between two Aztec months. During this time, Tonatiuh was believed to be particularly powerful, and many important events were scheduled to coincide with this period.

In addition to his association with the calendar, Tonatiuh has also been linked to other astronomical phenomena. For example, some scholars believe that his name may be related to the Aztec word for “east,” which would make sense given his association with the rising sun.

Overall, Tonatiuh’s astronomical associations highlight the important role that the sun played in Aztec culture and mythology. Whether he was being worshipped as a powerful god or used to mark the passage of time, Tonatiuh was a central figure in the Aztec worldview.

Modern Depictions


Tonatiuh has been featured in various works of literature, including poetry and novels. In these works, Tonatiuh is often depicted as a powerful and fierce deity, embodying the strength and energy of the sun. Some authors have also explored the more complex aspects of Tonatiuh’s character, such as his vulnerability and mortality.

Media and Entertainment

Tonatiuh has also been portrayed in various forms of media and entertainment. In popular culture, Tonatiuh is often depicted as a heroic figure, battling against evil forces to protect humanity. He has appeared in video games, comic books, and television shows, and has been the subject of numerous films and documentaries.

One notable example of Tonatiuh’s portrayal in media is the Aztec Sun Stone, a massive stone carving that depicts Tonatiuh at its center, surrounded by various celestial and religious symbols. This iconic image has been reproduced in countless forms, from t-shirts and posters to tattoos and jewelry.

Overall, Tonatiuh’s enduring popularity in modern culture is a testament to his importance in Mesoamerican mythology and his continued relevance as a symbol of power, strength, and resilience.

Archaeological Findings

Tonatiuh, the Aztec sun god, played a vital role in the Aztec culture and religion. The worship of Tonatiuh was a significant part of the Aztec daily life, and many archaeological findings have shed light on the importance of the god in Aztec society.

Excavations of the main Aztec site, Templo Mayor, by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma in the late ’70s revealed several artifacts related to Tonatiuh. The temple was dedicated to the god, and the findings included a sculpture of the god’s face, a statue of the god, and several other artifacts related to Tonatiuh worship.

The Aztecs believed that Tonatiuh was the fifth and final sun, and the god’s image is often depicted in Aztec art and architecture. The Aztec sun stone, a 24-ton basalt calendar stone, is one of the most important remaining artifacts from the Aztec Empire. The central image on the stone is believed to be the death of Tonatiuh during an eclipse, an event that the Aztecs believed would lead to a global apocalypse accompanied by earthquakes.

In conclusion, the archaeological findings related to Tonatiuh provide valuable insights into the importance of the god in Aztec culture and religion. The worship of Tonatiuh was a vital part of the Aztec daily life, and the artifacts related to the god’s worship are a testament to the significance of the god in Aztec society.