The Mayan Civilization

Ruins left behind by the Mayans
  • The Mayans believed that the universe was made up of two separate worlds, the everyday world and the otherworld. The village chief acted as the leader of political life as well as the priest. He was responsible for standing between his people and the otherworld. The Maya are a native Mesoamerican people who made one of the most sophisticated cultures in the Western Hemisphere. Mayan religion was characterized by the worship of nature gods. Some aspects of Mayan religion survive today among the Mayan Indians of Mexico and Central America
  • Date founded: 250 AD (rise of the Maya civilization)
  • Place founded: Mesoamerica (Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize)
  • Theism: Polytheism
  • The Mayan civilization arose in Mesoamerica around 250 AD, influenced by the culture and religion of the Olmecs. During this first 650 years, which scholars call the Classic Period, the Mayan civilization consisted of more than 40 sizeable cities. The Maya had a highly sophisticated culture, and this included a written hieroglyphic language. The Maya worshipped a pantheon of nature gods, each of which had both a benevolent side and a malevolent side. The Maya also practiced a form of divination that centered on their elaborate calendar system and extensive knowledge of astronomy
  • At important ceremonies, the sacrificial victim was held down at the top of a pyramid or raised platform while a priest made an incision below the rib cage and ripped out the heart with his hands, the heart was then burned in order to nourish the gods. The Maya believed in a large number of nature gods. Some gods were considered more important and powerful than others. The Maya believed in a scary afterlife where most people had to travel through a dark underworld where mean gods would torment them. The only people who started out the afterlife in heaven were women who died in childbirth and people who had been sacrificed to the gods
  • The Maya civilization consisted of city-states. Each city-state was ruled by a king. The Maya believed that their king was given the right to rule by the gods. They believed that the king worked as an intermediary between the people and the gods. Because religion was an important part of the Maya life, the priests were powerful figures in the government In some ways the king was considered a priest. The Maya had strict laws. Crimes such as murder, arson, and acts against the gods were often punished with death. The punishment was lowered, if it the crime was an accident.The position of king was usually inherited by the oldest son. If there wasn't a son then the oldest brother became king. There were also many cases of women rulers
  • The Maya Empire was not one unified nation. There was no central governmen. The Maya built hundreds of cities. Each city had a noble family in charge of it. Control of the city passed from father to son. The head of the noble family in each city-state had government officials to help him rule his city. Women could be active in government and economics and religion. They did not send officials to other cities to collect taxes, because each city-state ruled only itself. But officials did visit other cities on government business
  • During the Classic period, the Maya lived in independent city-states. The highest authority in the state was the halach uinic, A Mayan word that means, “true man”. The Mayan ruler was considered a god-king. The nobles served as officials, and oversaw the administration of the state. Priests were important because they maintained favor with the gods. The Mayans made important breakthroughs in astronomy and mathematics. The Mayans used their observations to calculate the solar year. These calculations allowed the Mayans to make their solar calendar of 365 days. Mayan astronomy and calendar making depended on a good understanding of mathematics. The Mayans also recognized a need for a zero.
  • The Mayans were equally gifted in arts. The Maya also constructed upright stone slabs, called steles, which were often placed in front of temples. Another important art to the Mayans was weaving. In architecture, the Mayans built temple-pyramids from hand-cut limestone bricks. The Mayans developed the most complicated system of writing in the Americas. Not all Mayan groups shared the same language.