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The Mayans

Resources, articles, and posts about the culture of the Mayans

Resources, articles, and posts about the culture of the Mayans

Raw obsidian and obsidian blades, examples of Maya commodities, by Simon Burchell (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Maya Merchants and Traders

While agriculture was the basis of Maya civilization, trade was equally important. During the early Pre-Classic period, Maya living in small villages were somewhat self-sustaining. However, as the Maya began building their great cities, only trade would have brought them the essential goods they needed, such as salt and obsidian.…

Stela H at Copan, Honduras, depicting the king 18 Rabbit. By HJDP (own work) CC-BY-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Government of the Maya

Unlike the Aztec Empire, the Maya had no central controlling government. Rather, each Maya city-state had its own individual ruling family that controlled the city and surrounding rural area. Some city-states were larger and controlled other smaller city-states, ruling them indirectly but taking tribute from the smaller polity. The king,…

High priest (aj k'in), showing the eye of Kinich Ahau Itzamna, the creator god of the Maya, to a scribe. Kimball Art Museum, Fort Worth Texas.

The Maya Priesthood

The Maya had a large hierarchy of priests, who were second in importance in Maya culture only to the king himself. Priests communicated with the gods and were intermediaries between the Maya people and their deities. Maya priests were the keepers of knowledge. They learned and taught reading and writing.…

Lady Xoc, aunt-wife of king Shield Jaguar II, drawing a barbed rope through her tongue. AD 709

Daily Life for a Maya Noble

The noble class of the Maya was much smaller than any other class, but they were far more wealthy and powerful. Maya nobles, known as almehenob, filled the priesthood, or became government officials, court officers, town rulers, scribes, tribute collectors, military leaders and administrators. Their position, as well as their…

Mayan dish showing a woman making tortilla dough on a metate. Choco-Story museum Brugge (Belgium).

Daily Life for a Maya Artisan

Maya craftsmen had a slightly easier life than the hard, physical labor of the farmers. Artisans were still commoners, but rather than heading off to the milpas, they would work creating beautiful items such as jewelry, textiles, pottery and feather cloaks and headdresses. The artistry of the Maya Classical Era…

maya commoner

Daily Life for a Maya Commoner

Maya commoners made up the widest but lowest part of their society's social pyramid. As in most of the Mesoamerican cultures, daily life depended on social class. At the top were the king and noble families. Most nobles were elite warriors, priests, scribes or government officials. In the middle were…


Distinctive Features of the Maya Culture

Maya culture shared many characteristics with other Mesoamerican cultures such as the Olmec, Zapotec or Aztec, but retained some features purely Mayan. The Maya, for example, had the only writing system that represented the spoken language of the Mayans. While other Mesoamericans also had a form of pictographic writing, the…

Artist’s copy of a mural at the Temple of the Murals at Bonampak by Elelicht (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Rise and Fall of Maya Civilization Over 3,000 Years

Since Mayan culture formed, dissolved and reformed over many hundreds of years, scholars divide the years into three main time periods: Pre-Classic (2000 B.C. to A.D. 250), Classic (A.D. 250 to 900) and Post-Classic (900 to 1519). These eras are briefly described here, but will be more fully covered in…

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