Ancient Mayan trade

The Ancient Maya
April 26, 2018 – 05:18 pm
Sea Salt, Mayan

The ancient Maya achieved compelling and impressive socio-economic complexity during pre-conquest period. Extraordinary ancient cities such as Tikal and Caracol are scattered through out eastern Mexico and Guatemala. These economic centers exemplify the economic might and wealth of the ancient civilization. How did the ancient Maya attain such great affluence? The development of an extensive commercial network between neighboring Mayan city-states has recently has been accepted as a prime mechanism for economic growth in the ancient civilization.

Furthermore, amounting evidence has suggested that the demise of trade routes inhibited further growth, which directly led to the eventual decline of the entire civilization. It is a common notion that economics are largely dependent upon commercial relations with foreign settlements and civilizations. The ancient Maya were no exception, and at the pinnacle of the Mayan civilization (circa 800 AD) archaeological evidence suggests the Maya were involved in a commercial network that rivals contemporary world trade.


The pre-conquest Maya civilization existed between approximately 3000 B.C., with the beginning of the Archaic period, to 1524 with the Spanish Conquest led by Hernan Cortez. At the time of the conquest, the ancient Maya occupied all of Belize, Guatemala, and the Yucatan Peninsula, parts of the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas, and the western portion of Honduras and El Salvador.

Primarily during the Classic and periods of the Post-Classic, the Maya thrived with large cities such as Chichen Itza, which, according to Charles Lincoln, "...emerged as one of the primary centers of Mesoamerican1 civilization." The Maya continue to live in these areas and are known as the largest group of American Indians north of Peru. The success of any civilization largely depends on its ability to efficiently allocate its resources.

The development of extensive trade networks during the Classic, Terminal Classic, and parts of the Post Classic, allowed many Maya communities to acquire materials, which were not readily available. Not only did these relationships produce an exchange of ideas, but also they created a politically and economically sound infrastructure upon which the communities could prosper.


Economic stability was imperative for the success of ancient Maya city-states. Agriculture was a vital contributor to the economy in many ancient Maya communities. In fact, the majority of scholars believe that decline in many of the central lowland populations during the Late Classic and Terminal Classic periods was partially due to agricultural deficiency. This presupposes drought, most likely due to widespread deforestation and insufficient crop yields. Also, many of the technological advances of the ancient Maya concern agriculture. Raised fields and extensive irrigation are but two examples of technological change accomplished by the ancient Maya, which increased output, thereby strengthening the economy.

Favorable allocation of resources and specialization facilitated favorable trading relationships. The availability of resources is so tightly connected to economics that scholars often use economic laws, such as supply and demand, when assessing ancient Maya commerce. Specialization in trade can be defined as specialized exploitation of resources by populations in a specific environmental zone. Concentration in a specific area of commerce in response to availability of resources was key in determining the products exchanged between two groups.

The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico was widely inhabited in both the Classic Period, and more so in the Terminal and Post Classic Periods. The collapse of the central lowland's activity resulted in migration to areas in the Yucatan and the success of several civilizations including the Puuk, Toltec's, and Itza. Expert Anthony Andrews believes the salt beds lining the coasts of the Yucatan provided profitable trade and contributed to these civilizations' success.

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Popular Q&A
What was the ancient Mayans challenges?

drought or no rain for long time

What was an ancient Mayan codex.

A codex is an old manuscript, in the form of a book, which replaced the scroll between the years 0-300 AD. They were written in Maya hieroglyphic script on Mesoamerican bark cloth.

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