The coat of arms of Mexico (Spanish: Escudo Nacional de México, literally "national shield of Mexico") depicts a Mexican (golden) eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus devouring a rattlesnake. The design is rooted in the legend that the Aztec people would know where to build their city once they saw an eagle eating a snake on top of a lake. The image has been an important symbol of Mexican politics and culture for centuries. To the people of Tenochtitlan, this symbol had strong religious connotations, and to the Europeans, it came to symbolize the triumph of good over evil (with the snake sometimes representative of the serpent in the Garden of Eden).
|Coat of arms of Mexico |
Escudo Nacional de México
|Armiger||United Mexican States|
|Adopted||16 September 1968 |
(latest version, by Francisco Eppens Helguera)
|Blazon||Atop a nopal pedestal, a Mexican golden eagle devouring a rattle snake, all proper|
|Supporters||Oak and laurel leaves, all proper|
The Law on the National Arms, Flag, and Anthem regulates the design and use of the arms. They feature in the centre of the flag of Mexico, are engraved on the obverse of Mexican peso coins, and are the basis of the Seal of the United Mexican States, the seal used on any official documents issued by the federal, state or municipal governmental authorities. The seal differs from the arms by the addition of the words Estados Unidos Mexicanos ("United Mexican States", the full official name of the country) in a semicircle around the upper half.
The coat of arms recalls the founding of Mexico City, then Tenochtitlan. The legend of Tenochtitlan, as shown in the original Aztec codices, paintings, and post-Cortesian codices, does not include a snake. While the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer depicts an eagle attacking a snake, other Mexica illustrations, such as the Codex Mendoza, show only an eagle; in the text of the Ramírez Codex, however, Huitzilopochtli asked the Tenochtitlan people to look for an eagle devouring a snake, perched on a prickly pear cactus. In the text by Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin, the eagle is devouring something, but it is not mentioned what it is. Other versions (such as the backside of the Teocalli of the Sacred War) show the eagle clutching the Aztec symbol of war, the atl-tlachinolli glyph, or "burning water".
Moreover, the original meanings of the symbols were different in numerous ways. The eagle was a representation of the sun god Huitzilopochtli, who was very important, as the Mexicas referred to themselves as the "People of the Sun". The cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica), full of its fruits, called nōchtli in Nahuatl, represents the island of Tenochtitlan. To the Mexicas, the snake represented wisdom, and it had strong connotations with the god Quetzalcoatl. The story of the snake was derived from an incorrect translation of the Crónica Mexicáyotl by Fernando Alvarado Tezozómoc. In the story, the Nahuatl text ihuan cohuatl izomocayan "the snake hisses" was mistranslated as "the snake is torn". Based on this, Father Diego Durán reinterpreted the legend so that the eagle represents all that is good and right, while the snake represents evil and sin. Despite its inaccuracy, the new legend was adopted because it conformed with European heraldic tradition. To the Europeans, it would represent the struggle between good and evil. Although this interpretation does not conform to pre-Columbian traditions, it was an element that could be used by the first missionaries for the purposes of evangelism and the conversion of the native peoples.
In 1960, the Mexican ornithologist Rafael Martín del Campo identified the eagle in the pre-Hispanic codex as the crested caracara or "quebrantahuesos" (bonebreaker), a species common in Mexico (although the name "eagle" is taxonomically incorrect, as the caracara is in the falcon family). The golden eagle is considered the official bird of Mexico. When Father Durán introduced the snake, it was originally an aquatic serpent. But in 1917, the serpent was changed to be a rattlesnake, because it was more common than the aquatic varieties in pre-Hispanic illustrations. As a result of this, the design and color of the snake on the modern coat of arms do not correspond with those of any species of snake, and were inspired by the representations of Quetzalcoatl, a rattlesnake with quetzal feathers.
The seal of New Mexico includes the eagle, snake, and cactus of the Mexican seal, sheltered or dominated by a larger bald eagle, representing New Mexico's history as part of Mexico and its later status as part of the United States. After the territory of New Mexico was admitted to the Union in 1912, a commission examining the new state's symbols recommended that both the "American" and "Mexican" eagles be North American golden eagles, but instead it uses an American bald eagle for the United States and a harpy eagle for Mexico.
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