Mayan Politics

Ancient Mayan Civilization
April 14, 2018 – 04:44 pm
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The Ancient Maya were never united under one ruler or empire, but instead were divided into multiple states in which most had its own central government and were ruled as a state system, with the king as the main ruler. Some states were fully independent while others were led by larger governments, but each state was linked together through trade, political alliances, similar ideologies, and rituals. The picture to the left reinstates where the major Mayan cities were located.

As stated before, each state had a principle leader called the ‘Ahaw, ' or king. The ‘Batab’ were rulers of small towns and had social, religious, and military duties. They were unpaid, but had power to preside over a local council of officials called the Ah Cuch Cabob. The Batab’s delegates called Ah Kuleloob were directly under the Batab, and whose main responsibilities were to ensure the Batabs orders were implemented. At the lower end of authority were the constables called Tupiles who were in charge of keeping the peace in the town. Under the king, nobles were subdivided into two groups called the ‘Ahkinoob’ that formed the clergy and the ‘Almehenob’ who were important warriors and wealthy farmers. The clergy had a surprisingly large role in government due to their advice giving and predictions about future events, in which all the rulers took heed in and the word of the clergy was rarely defied.

Religion was tightly woven into the political structure and practice of the Ancient Maya-and will be explained in more detail under the religion section. Some evidence suggests that rulers used theater in front of large audiences to display ritual performances as a means to “ground unstable community identities in tangible forms through the use of symbolic acts and objects” (Chicago Press.) One of the most favored ceremonies were human sacrifices—a very popular tool for the rulers to show religious as well as social control within his people and towards rival states. Even with the birth of a new heir to the throne, the current Ahaw would perform a blood-letting from his own body as an offering to his ancestors, and before installment of the new king the prospective heir must have taken a captive in war, in which that captive would be the sacrifice on his day of crowning. One became a sacrifice either by enslavement through enemy capture or by committing a crime.

The Ahaw and his council, or just the council if there was now Ahaw in place, issued various laws, carried out those laws, and practiced coercion when these laws were broken. The more important cases were directed by the royal council comprised of the Batab and were led by the Ahaw, while the lesser cases were directed by local judges. Murder, rape, incest, and acts that would offend the gods were punishable by death. Enslavement, various fines, and in rare occasions (since Maya did not have any prisons), imprisonment, were held for lesser acts of crime. However, the Maya were commonly merciful in punishment and even a citizen found guilty of murder could be punished by a mere fine.

War was very common in ancient Maya, and as with most wars, the purpose was to destroy rival states, gain tribute, and capture victims. These captured victims would then be enslaved or used for human sacrifices to the gods. The Ahaw of that state was the military leader and was aided by the Nacom, a military advisor who was elected every three years. To prepare for battle, the Batab was required to gather a group of men as troops, but the means of training and gathering of supplies is not yet known. Once at war, any noble who was captured was immediately sacrificed and any captured soldier was forced into slavery.

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