While millions of Mayans died or at least disappeared during the years of the Classic era collapse, the Mayan civilization didn’t totally vanish. The great cities of the southern lowlands were abandoned and the remaining Mayans took their civilization to the northern Yucatan where they settled. Gradually, they built new cities. Other already settled Mayan cities expanded. Mayan life and society continued with a change of emphasis from the deep religiosity of the Classic period to a more secular society focused on economic growth and prosperity. This culture continued until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.

The major cities of the Post-Classic era include Chichen-Itza, Uxmal and Mayapan. Other Mayan cities in northern Belize such as Santa Rita, Colba and Lamanai also flourished as did some Mayan groups in the Peten region of Guatemala at Tayasal and Zacpeten.


The Mayans of the Yucatan, however, had some difficult challenges to overcome, namely switching from a rainforest environment to the much drier climate of the Yucatan. The Yucatan Mayans managed to switch their reliance on surface reservoirs of water to the use of groundwater resources such as the subterranean basins and sinkholes known as cenotes. Cenote Sagrada remains a sacred well within the grounds of Chichen-Itza. Arid on the surface, the Yucatan holds its water underground, which allowed the Mayans to flourish.

While in general the Mayans of the Post-Classic period moved away from the religious domination of the priesthood and divine rule of kings, they became more attentive to the rain gods, due to the aridity of the Yucatan. Carvings of Chac, the Mayan rain god, cover the buildings of Post-Classic era cities, especially Uxmal.

The Mayans came under the influence of the Toltecs, a people that moved into the area from Mexico after the fall of Teotihuacan. Sculptures and architectural style reflects this influence as does the Mayans sacrificing to the Toltec rain god, Tlaloc along with Chac. Scholars have yet to discover the exact political and social relationship of the Mayans and Toltecs, but both cultures influenced the other.

Chichen-Itza dominated the Yucatan during the earlier years of the Post-Classic era from A.D. 900 to 1250. After the decline of Chichen-Itza, its rival city Mayapan become dominant. The Mayans might have taken their name from this great Post-Classic city. Maritime trade around the Yucatan grew during the later years of the Post-Classic, from 1250 to the coming of the Spanish.

The Spanish began their conquest of the Mayans in 1527, but it took them 170 years to finish the process. Each Mayan city-state had to be conquered separately as there was no central Mayan government. As the Yucatan was poor in precious metals, the region was far less attractive to the Spanish than central Mexico. The Spanish finally won against the last Mayan city in the Peten in 1697. In the meantime, European diseases and enslavement demolished the Mayans and ended the Post-Classic era of Mayan civilization.

This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Mayans. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to the Mayans.

Cite This Article
"The Mayan Post-Classic Era" History on the Net
© 2000-2023, Salem Media.
March 25, 2023 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/the-mayan-post-classic-era>
More Citation Information.