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the king, but warlords, noblemen, and noblewomen. THE COURT AT WAR For decades, when calendars were the only Maya documents that had been deciphered, scholars erroneously theorized that the ancient Maya were peaceful timekeepers or stargazers ruled by astronomer-priests. The discovery of new works of art and advances in

Dominated by the king the Maya court was the focus of religious
and political life Within palace chambers and behind swag
curtains the king ruled from his throne where he reclined on
jaguar pelts in settings often prepared for feasts with plentiful
tamales pots of frothy chocolate drink and flowers Dwarfs and
hunchbacks served as his trusted counselors while musicians
played wooden trumpets and horns made from conch shells
The Maya commissioned finely crafted works to furnish their
palaces and attest to their sovereignty among them carved
thrones and throne backs where a king might reign supported by depictions of ancestors or
gods Figural mirror holders served as perpetual servants who revealed the king s dazzling
but fractured image in polished mosaic mirrors The king s scepter took the form of a
powerful god of lineage and lightning Although rare artists working in stucco achieved
realistic portraiture that captures age and wisdom
Painted cups and vases for the elite depict scenes of court life while clay figurines portray
members of society that attended the king Representing servants dwarfs hunchbacks
musicians messengers and priests along with elegantly dressed women these figurines all
come from tombs where they also served their lords in death
At the heart of ancient Maya religious belief
lies maize the staple food of the New World
personified by the Maize God The mythic story
of the god of maize mirrors the annual planting
and harvesting of the corn on which all Maya
civilization depended Like the maize plant
the Maize God was decapitated at harvest
time but was reborn fresh young and
beautiful at the beginning of each new
growing season The Maize God was thus a
metaphor for life and resurrection
At court lords and ladies often portrayed themselves as incarnations of the handsome Maize
God Mothers strapped infants to cradle boards gently molding their foreheads into the
shape of tapered maize cobs The Maya elite wore their thick straight hair gathered in
upswept hairdos that echoed the lustrous corn silk of the maize plant For their formal
costumes they relied on two precious materials jade and feathers Adorned in jade jewelry
and bedecked with headdresses of green quetzal feathers rulers became one with the
verdant life giving Maize God
The Maize God was the preeminent deity in a pantheon that also included the god of
cacao or chocolate and the underworld god of trade Unlike maize a necessity chocolate
was a luxury and the basis for a special drink favored at court The god of trade also
associated with luxury was an old and ruthless trickster made rich by his control of
commerce and tribute Maya rulers emulated his luxurious palace where he is depicted
sitting on a throne covered with a jaguar pelt and wearing the richest of costumes valued
goods garnered in his role as the merchant god
Writing is a hallmark of Maya civilization Of the many
Mesoamerican societies from the Olmec to the Aztec only
the Maya developed a complete system of writing that
represents the equivalent of speech With more than five
hundred hieroglyphs phonetic or pictorial signs for sounds or
words Mayan writing long eluded modern attempts at
By 1900 the elaborate calendar of the Maya had been
deciphered and a correlation between it and the Christian
calendar established Beginning in the 1950s and especially
in the past two decades scholars have made enormous
strides in decoding Mayan glyphs Much of Mayan writing
can now be read reproducing the sound and syntax of an
archaic language no longer spoken today This writing
system saw its highest achievement in the seventh and
Image Cylinder vessel with flower motifs
eighth centuries AD The pictorial quality of Mayan glyphs
Although no examples from the first millennium AD survive meant that scribes were by necessity
artists Many scribes and artists came
books screenfold manuscripts painted on fig bark paper from the elite ranks the specialized skills
were a commonplace their illustrations may have resembled for the making and inscribing of fine
things belonged to particular families
the finely painted images on ceramics in this gallery Such and their workshops Teams of sculptors
flourishing art production required wealthy patrons not just produced large stone works while a
single artist painted any given Maya
the king but warlords noblemen and noblewomen pot Artists sometimes signed their work
as in the case of the Fleur de lis vase
For decades when calendars were the only Maya documents that had been deciphered
scholars erroneously theorized that the ancient Maya were peaceful timekeepers or
stargazers ruled by astronomer priests The discovery of new works of art and advances in
understanding the written language revealed that to the contrary warfare was common
Maya city states went to war to take over trade routes gain special access to precious
goods especially jade cacao and feathers and probably by the late eighth century just
to get a share of diminishing resources especially foodstuffs and construction material Over
the centuries grim rivalries developed
Warfare took place twice for the Maya once in the chaotic setting of battle and a second
time in court where victories were reenacted in carefully scripted ceremonies Wearing
jaguar pelts and leather jerkins warriors marched live captives bound and stripped of their
finery back to the palace where they were presented to the king and subjected to painful
The Mayan achievements in science were
particularly astronomy and engineering
Astronomy and engineering would have not
been possible if the Maya had not been skilled
mathematicians Two systems were used to
record numbers One was stylized pictures of the
heads of the Gods with the numerals remaining
The second system was more commonly used it
was similar in many respects to our decimal
system It was based on units of twenty rather than units of ten The Mayans had employed
bar and dot notations in which the bar had a value of 5 and dot as 1 A shell was a third
symbol representing the number 0 The use of the concept of zero was an accomplishment
Combinations of the bar and dot symbols represented the numbers 1 19 Beyond the point
the position of the numerals indicated the value just as the decimal system the positions to
the left of the decimal point increase by powers of 10 In the Mayan system the values
increased by powers of 20 as you moved from bottom to top
Astronomy And The Calendar
The Maya were fascinated with time and the thought of it as a supernatural force under the
control of the Gods They believed that periods of time were burdens that different gods
carried on their backs for their allotted span of time before passing the burden to the next
god For example the god of October would pass the burden onto the god of November
Some gods were kind others were not Priests were responsible for determining when
beneficial or harmful deities would be ruling time Mayan priest astronomers studied the sky
intently from the tops of their temple pyramids plotting the movements of the sun the moon
and Venus without the use of any optical devices They undertook intensive studies of lunar
eclipses and their observations and records were so exact that they could predict eclipses
The Mayans calculated the year to be 365 2422 days The Maya used a gnomon a kind of
sight made with a vertical rod to determine the solstices The rod produced the shortest
shadow at midday on June 21 and the longest at midday on December 21
Chinampas added both living
and agricultural space to the
island Houses could be built on
chinampas after they were firmly in
place and the plots were used to
grow a great variety of products
from maize and beans to
tomatoes and flowers The Mexica
Aztec built chinampas all around
Tenochtitlan like their neighbors in
the freshwater lakes to the south
They were however constantly
faced with the danger of flooding
which brought salty water across
the chinampas and ruined the
land and crops Lake Texcoco
accumulated minerals from the
river water running into it which
caused the water to be brackish
mix of fresh and salt water In the
mid 15th century this problem was
solved a dike was built separating
the western section of the lake
where Tenochtitlan was located
and protecting the city from salty
water and some flooding
Creating Allies With Neighboring Cities
In 1440 the fifth chief of the Aztecs came to rule Tenochtitlan The Mexica now dominated the whole
of the Valley of Mexico and had allied themselves with the neighboring cities of Texcoco Tesh koh
koh and Tlacopan Tlah koh pahn
Marrying Pure Toltec Brides
Their chiefs had sought out princesses of pure Toltec descent as their brides so that they could inherit
the divine right to rule which belonged to the descendants of Quetzalcoatl The new ruler of the
Aztecs was given the title of Huey Tlatcani Ooeh tlah toh ah ni or Great Speaker for the several
tribes over whom he had dominion His name was Moctecuzoma Ilhuicamina Mock teh Koo zoh
mah Eel weeh kah mee nah Noble Strong Arm He Who Aims at the Sky
The Military
During his reign the Aztec armies continued their conquests and were the first to reach the shores of
the Mexican Gulf
Rebuilding the Temple and Captive Sacrifices
In 1484 the Great Speaker Tizoc Tee zohk He who offers his own Blood to the Gods laid the
foundations for the rebuilding of the ancient temple to Huitzilopochtli He took prisoners and
sacrificed some to the god Tizoc died before the temple was completed When the great
temple was dedicated he took 20 000 captives and had them all sacrificed in four days by eight
teams of priests
In an article entitled The Aztecs Paid Taxes Not
Tribute archaeologist Michael E Smith writes
States interact with their subjects in two ways they
exploit people and they provide services This has been
true from the earliest states in Mesopotamia to the
nation states of today Taxation is one of the primary
means by which states exploit their citizens or subjects
and taxes provide the revenue for the services offered
According to Smith inhabitants and the states they
lived in paid regular taxes to the Triple Alliance
Tenochtitlan Texcoco and Tlacopan that made up
the Aztec empire They made regular payments on
specified dates according to the Aztec calendar
Some were paid once a year others twice and others
four times per year The taxes were collected by
professional tax collectors and recorded in tax rolls
The taxes were usually paid in cacao beans and
cotton mantas woven cloth that the Aztecs used for
money Other goods supplemented the cacao beans
and mantas based on the products produced in the
This page from the Codex Mendoza depicts region
what cities in the Aztec empire owed the
government in taxes The towns are listed on
Source Michael E Smith The Aztecs Paid Taxes Not
the left and the mantas and other goods they
owe in taxes are drawn on the right
Tribute from Mexicon v 35 2014
The type of tax that a state city or town paid the Aztecs depended on their relationship with
the government at shown in the chart below
Aztec City States
Areas conquered and governed by the Aztecs
Land Tax Calpolli paid taxes in the form of cotton mantas cacao beans firework and
foodstuffs based on the amount of land they farmed Farmers kept most of their crop but had
to send some of it to the king
Rotational Labor Calpolli members were required to work for the king or nobles Women spun
and wove textiles while men often supplied firewood swept and carried water
Public Works Corv e Calpolli gave the labor of their members up to assist with building projects
directed by the Aztec government like building aqueducts or temples
Military Corv e All young males had to serve in the military
Market Tax Government officials waited in guard huts at the market and took a portion of the
goods as tax for being allowed to sell goods in the market
Conquest States Unconquered States
States that were conquered by the Aztecs States that were unconquered by the Aztecs
allowed to be rule themselves as they had received military support from the Aztecs in
before in exchange for military loyalty and taxes return for gifts
The Aztecs believed that all the
time the sun was thirsting from
the great internal heat So he
had to be nourished and cooled
by offerings of the red cactus
fruit which meant human hearts
and blood Only a very few had
to be sacrificed to keep the sun
moving in the sky but the
sacrifice must never be
neglected or the human race
would die from the fire caused
by a motionless sun
The Custom of Sacrificing the Heart and Offering It to the Gods
The Tovar Codex attributed to the 16th century Mexican Jesuit Juan de Tovar contains
detailed information about the rites and ceremonies of the Aztecs also known as Mexica
The codex is illustrated with 51 full page paintings in watercolor This illustration from the
second section depicts a human sacrifice An anonymous priest holding a spear presides
over the sacrifice of a man whose heart is removed by an assistant In the background
another assistant on the steps of a temple or pyramid holds an incense burner The offering
of the victim s heart to the gods satisfied the Aztec belief that the sun would rise again
nourished by the hearts of men Thexochiyaoyotl Flower Wars were conducted to capture
prisoners for the sacrificial offerings needed for the gods
We can only marvel at the ability of the
Sapa Inca chief ruler to control his vast
domains separated as they were not
only by long distances but by dramatic
changes in altitude Inca engineers
developed a massive road system over
some of the most rugged terrain on
earth a lattice network of highways
and tracks that covered a staggering
19 000 miles 30 000 km The Inca empire
could never have been created without
this communication system that carried
important officials government
correspondence entire armies and all
manner of commodities and trade
goods Road building started long before
Inca times for earlier states like Chimor
on the coast also needed to connect
dense concentrations of farmers in
widely separated valleys But the Incas
vastly extended the
network Anthropologist John Murra has
called these roads the flag of the Inca
state for they were a highly visible link
between the individual and the remote
central government
By 1607 the Powhatan Chiefdom
numbered approximately 15 000
Chief Powhatan was the paramount
chief of the Powhatan Chiefdom In
the sixteenth century he inherited six
tribes from his mother or someone
related to her Powhatan society was
matrilineal so descent was passed
through the mother s line By 1607 the
Powhatan Chiefdom had more than
30 different tribes each of which had
its own chief All had been gained
through marriage alliance or coercion
and were ruled by and had to pay
tribute to Powhatan
The Powhatan Indians lived in towns located
on high ground near rivers which were
sources of food and transportation The
Powhatan also used the rivers to bathe every
morning Sometimes the towns were
palisaded which usually meant they were
closer to enemy territory The towns consisted
of from two to a hundred houses with six to
twenty people living in each dwelling
according to Captain John Smith These
houses called yehakins were typically
scattered and interspersed between the
trees The yehakins were made from saplings
bent and lashed together at the top to form
a barrel shape Woven mats or bark were
placed on top of the saplings and space left for an entrance at each end of the house and an open
hole at the center of the roof for smoke to escape The size of the house varied but someone like
Chief Powhatan had a larger house than most it even had separate corridors In summer when
heat and humidity increased the mat walls could be rolled up or removed for better air circulation
Yehakins were constructed by the women who may have also owned them Women provided
most if not all of the fuel and much of the food as well Besides building the houses and everything
associated with them Powhatan women cooked and prepared food gathered firewood which
was kept constantly going collected water for cooking and drinking reared the children with help
from the men when they were home made the clothing farmed planting and harvesting and
made baskets pots cordage wooden spoons platters and mortars Many tasks took them away
from not only their houses but the towns as well They also collected edible plants which meant
women needed to be able to identify the various useful plants in all seasons and terrains Women
were barbers for the men and would process any meat the men brought home as well as tan hides
used to make clothing They were constantly doing something To acquire the varied knowledge and
skills necessary to be an adult Powhatan girls education began at an early age
Powhatan men had fewer jobs than the women but
they were especially demanding Their world revolved
around always being prepared to kill enemy people
and animals efficiently Besides hunting and war men
built dugout canoes used by men and women
fished and cleared garden plots They fished mostly in
the spring and hunted mostly in the fall it was the
man s responsibility to provide animals for food
clothing and tools Hunting was a taxing job requiring
mental concentration extended bursts of physical
energy and an intimate knowledge of the terrain and
plant cover that attracted animals Hunting methods
necessitated the men s unique hairstyles They wore
the left side of their hair long and tied in a knot
decorated with various trophies from wars or feathers
and shaved the right side so as not to get their bow
strings caught in their hair The intensiveness of hunting
required periods of rest During their rest time men
also cleared land for garden plots built and repaired
fishing weirs and hunting gear and exchanged
information with other men
Men s work was different than women s but both were
important and benefited Powhatan society as a
whole In fact if a Powhatan family had at least one
adult male and one adult female it could live
comfortably entirely by its own labor Powhatan
children learned how to be adults and to do adults
work from both of their parents At first both boys and
girls were taught mostly by their mothers fathers helped rear the children when they were not
hunting or fishing Once boys were old enough agile enough good enough runners and were an
accurate shot with a bow and arrow they were taken hunting and fishing by their fathers These
same hunting skills also helped the boys learn the art of war and vice versa
Marriage in Powhatan society meant that a man was able to be a provider for his wife and family
which had to be proven to the prospective in laws Marriage indicated a man had truly reached
maturity and that a woman was able to bear children Once a man found a woman he wanted to
marry he had to attract her interest and if she still lived with her parents gain their approval He did
so through gifts of food which showed his ability to provide Once an agreement was reached the
man negotiated and paid a bride wealth to her parents as a way of compensating her family for
their loss of valuable labor and for her child bearing potential The bride wealth served as a public
declaration of the chosen woman s value Soon after the man procured the necessary household
items a house mortar and pestle mats pots and bedding and the bride wealth was paid the
bride was brought to the groom s house There her father guardian or chief friend joined the
couple s hands together A string of beads was measured to the man s arm length and then broken
over the couple s hands the beads were given to the person who brought the bride The couple
were now married and expected to be for life and a celebration took place Divorce was possible
however in which case any children were possibly split between their parents according to their sex
Another type of marriage a marriage by contract was a temporary agreement made between a
Powhatan man and woman that usually lasted one year Each year the contractual union was
either renewed or ended and the two were free to marry others If however the allotted time passed
without the union being ended or re negotiated the couple were married permanently
Chief Powhatan and possibly other chiefs were in a position to not only choose whom they wanted
to marry on a grander scale but could pay whatever bride wealth they saw fit with no negotiation
they outranked their prospective in laws Marrying the paramount chief was considered an honor
However unlike other Powhatan Indian marriages Powhatan s wives were not allowed to have
extramarital relations which were permitted in the rest of Powhatan society if the wife had her
husband s permission As the paramount chief Powhatan was able to afford more wives than the
average man multiple wives were allowed so long as they could all be supported he was recorded
as having had more than one hundred wives Once one of his wives had a child by him Powhatan
sent her with their baby back to her home town where they were supported by Powhatan Once the
child was old enough he or she was sent back to live with Powhatan s other children The mother
was then considered divorced from Powhatan and free to marry another For all Powhatan Indians
marriage was considered a child rearing arrangement Love if it materialized during the course of a
marriage was welcomed but not expected as the worlds of men and women were so different and
Besides being taught the differences in their worlds Powhatan boys and girls learned how to properly
act They were taught to be respectful in public self control was one of the greatest virtues This
served a functional purpose as well since there was no law enforcement Even chiefs sometimes did
not have the right to intervene in quarrels between people It was best to follow the policy that
proper human beings simply were not supposed to be openly hostile with each other Instead a
non interfering and non preaching stance was taken to avoid insulting anyone This respectful public
attitude was especially important when Powhatan Indians encountered non relatives or someone
they did not trust or like

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