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Ancient Maya government was formed on the basis that rulers were thought to have been god-like, which to some might suggest one unified state. However, the consensus amongst anthropologists supports that each major Maya city remained its own independent and sovereign entity with its own unique struggles for political power. The Maya belief in god-like rulers also made it important to keep the line of power in the family, which would occasionally include a woman ruler.

These years are typically divided into three periods; the Pre-classic, the Classic, and Post-classic. The periods are usually distinguished by a few characteristics. The Classic period can be recognized by the abundance of Maya polities and the thriving trade between the Maya polities and other non-Maya polities.

History for Kids: Aztecs, Maya, and Inca

In contrast to the elites from previous periods, elites from the Classic period are believed to have been literate and knowledgeable. The Pre-classic period is notable for fewer large polities. The Post-classic period is marked by the decline of many of the large and once-powerful city-states. Many of these city-states were abandoned and had a severe drop in their populations. Maya politics did not begin with kings in the early Pre-classic period. Much of the political systems in the Maya polities began in the late Pre-classic period around BCE. The rulers of the various Maya city-states were thought to be a kind of human-god hybrid.

According to Martin, rulers could assert their status as king or lord on Ajaw or Ahau lord day. Kings would have an effigy of themselves carved on the Sacred Round. The Sacred Round was a day calendar which consisted of 13 day months. Each day of the month was represented by a specific god; Ahau day was specifically for kingly rituals. Once a king had achieved the honor of being on the Sacred Round, the depiction became an actual personification of the king and time.

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Throughout the Maya era, the Maya remained in separate polities and did not unite as one empire. The same can be said for the celebrated Classic Maya period. The Classic period is considered by Cioffi-Revilla and Landman to have had about 72 major political units. These polities did not all exist simultaneously. The researchers posit that about 50 polities existed together at one point. Because these polities would trade with each other as well as non-Maya polities and were independent from each other, the Maya civilization is seen as an internationally trading civilization.

The increased trade of the Classic states contributed to the politics of the Maya. Researchers have understood that the Maya underwent two cycles of politics. The first cycle involved a longer period of time for economic, political, and population development. Cioffi-Revilla and Landman state that while the number of polities did fall at the end of the first cycle of collapse around CE, the politics did not completely vanish. The economics of most Maya polities are intertwined with the social framework of the Maya.

The most widely accepted system of social framework for the Maya is the classic three-tiered system.

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Wattle and daub are essentially the new world equivalent of thatch-roofed homes. However, this take on the social structure of the Maya may be shifting. Pitcher, sociologist and chancellor at Washington State University, have found evidence for a wide variety of elite uniforms which suggests that there may have been specialization among the economics of the elite.

Because the middle class was the main goods producer, it is implied that the elites and middle class worked closely together in regards to the production of specialized goods. The combination of the different elite uniforms supports the theory that the elites and middle classes worked together. While it may not be the case that elites are actually the producers of goods, they could have been foremen-types for certain industries.

Locating the Maya

While there is much study about the larger Maya cities , more recent studies in moderately sized Maya cities is important for establishing what life may have been like throughout the Maya realm. The following cities were the focuses of three different studies which help to illustrate the overarching themes of Maya government.

These changes in the actual geographical boundaries of reign for the elites could also indicate that at some point, there could have been independent cities. In other words, there was no ruling system in some of the ancient Maya cities. The theory is supported by the varying Ik-style pottery. Ik-style poverty is mainly a Motul product that shows designs pertaining to gods, current rulers, feasts, scenes of warriors, and bloodletting scenes.

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Research also unveils another take on Maya social and economic structure. Instead of the traditional three-tiered system, Kosakowsky argues for a more complex stratification of the Maya economy. Mayans can probably be credited with the first manufacture of rubber and being the first group to cultivate cacao, papaya, and the aguacate or avocado pear. They were in possession of a complicated number and calendar system but never developed a phonetic alphabet or discovered the wheel.

Historical records suggest that after centuries of glory the Mayan people fled their cities for no apparent reason and left their world to fall to ruin. By the time the Spaniards discovered these cities hundreds of years later, all that left were the remnants of this great civilization. Most of what we know about the Mayan Empire has been discovered in archeological excavations and interpretations of hieroglyphics.

From these we have at least a superficial knowledge of this society of the past. In this section of our paper, we will present you with a brief history of the Mayan past and then focus on the modern Maya. The Mayan region was by no means homogenous in culture or in the distribution of natural resources.

While historical data suggests that the ancestral Mayan stock started in a particular highland region of Central America, consequent dispersal led to the formation of many differentiated groups in different areas. These groups often interacted with each other through trade because of the need for resources. Various groups often followed the same system of agriculture and worshiped the same tribal gods. However, each tribe still had its own specific culture and style. The most important region of the Mayan Empire and the area of our interest where the famous civilization reached its maximum height is located in the tropical forest-clad lowlands.

Tikal is only one of the many great cities in this area that produced the most intricate architecture and abundant hieroglyphics. It is very interesting that the cultural peak of the empire was reached in an area covered with dense forest which man had to fight with nothing but stone tools and fire. The Maya in this lowland area were active traders and farmers of beans and maize and succeeded to clear the forest through the practice of cutting and burning for planting.


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Other sustenance stemmed from trading cacao, jade, and other specialties. The principle medium of currency was the cacao bean. This was ideal because when the value of the cacao dropped due to overproduction, the Mayans simply took more beans out of circulation for chocolate production. The Mayan city-states thrived as hubs of commerce and the people were able to establish themselves in this unfriendly natural environment. Mayan art and scientific realizations have made a lasting impression on modern mankind. Achievements in art can be witnessed in sculptures, the vestiges of Mayan paintings, and the beauty of their pottery, stone, and jade preserved in altars and historical monuments.

Much of Mayan art is distinctly different from European art and is easily recognizable.

Maya Government

The Mayans were special in that they used engineering skill in their building. While other indigenous groups built by setting one stone on top of the other, the Mayans took into consideration factors such as stress and strain. Scientifically, the Mayans were more progressive than any other civilization in this time period and advanced far beyond their own personal needs.


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  7. The calendar system the Mayans invented allowed them to plot time for the next million years and predict occurrences such as the movements of the planets and the eclipses of the sun and the moon to the nearest second. The Mayans calculated the days in the year to add up to Their number system allowed them to make sums up into the millions and comprehend the concept of zero ahead of any other culture. Considering that the Mayan Empire was stuck in the stone age, the building of pyramids and temples must have taken teamwork and an abundance of patience. With the average Mayan lifetime being only thirty years, close cooperation between astronomers and generations must have also existed to achieve such accurate measurements and observations.

    Various religious ceremonies and dances probably also helped to build stable communities. This all ended very suddenly and without any obvious explanation. One by one, life in the cities ceased as no more monuments were erected and no more temples were built. In many cases, work was actually stopped before completion which suggests the deed of a sudden catastrophe. Several speculations have been made as to what caused the collapse of the Mayan civilization but discrepancies have been found in each hypothesis.

    Certain people have tried to blame disease but epidemics such as malaria and yellow fever were only introduced with the Spanish. Good soil fertility found at one of the first cities to stop functioning helps to refute this explanation. The theory that makes the most sense to historian, J.

    Eric S. Thompson, is that the cities were not actually abandoned with the end of cultural activities. Excavation has shown that burials and sacrifices were still made in cities even after building had stopped. As the demand for labor in construction and food production grew at the peak of the civilization, the underclass probably rebelled and drove out or killed the ruling group. This would explain the abrupt cessation of art and monument erection, along with the continuation of religious ceremonies. The buildings presumably slowly began to deteriorate with the peasants half-heartedly tried to keep their cities in shape and failing.

    The modern day Maya still live within the boundaries of their old empire in Central America. The region that makes up this area now consists of the countries of Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and five states in Mexico.

    The Maya: Engineering an Empire

    Guatemala is considered to be the birthplace of the Mayan civilization and consequently still has a very active Mayan population. Please sign in to see your eBook pricing and to be able to add items to your Cart or Wish List. Standing Order Plan A Standing Order Plan saves you both time and money without risking a penny of your acquisitions budget. Empire of Alexander the Great, Third Edition.

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