Maya Kings and Cities Chapter 16 Section 2



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Maya Kings and Cities

Chapter 16 Section 2

Setting the Stage: In the early centuries A.D., most North American peoples were beginning to develop complex societies. Further south, the peoples of Mexico and Central America were entering into the full flower of civilization. A prime example of this cultural flowering was the Maya, who built an extraordinary civilization in the heart of Mesoamerica.

Maya Create City-States



  • The homeland of the Maya stretched from Southern Mexico in to northern Central America

  • They include the forests of the Yucatan Peninsula and the jungles of southeastern Mexico

Urban Centers

  • The Classic Period of Maya civilization during this time the Maya build spectacular cities such as Tikal

  • Each had an independent city-state, ruled by a god-king and serving as a center for religious ceremonies and trade

  • At least 50 major Maya sites have been identified

Agriculture and Trade Support Cities

  • Maya city-states were linked through alliances and trade

  • Cities exchanged local products such as salt, flint, feathers, shells and honey

  • The Maya did not have a uniform currency, cacao (chocolate) beans sometimes served as the form of currency

  • The Maya practiced slash-and-burn agriculture. This method involves farmers clearing the land by burning existing vegetation and planting crops in the ashes.

  • The Maya also developed more sophisticated methods, including planting on raised beds above swamps and on hillside terraces called terrace farming.

Kingdoms Built on Dynasties

  • Successful farming methods led to the accumulation of wealth and the development of social classes.

  • The king sat at the top of this class structure. He was regarded as a holy figure and his position was by hereditary

  • The noble class-priests and leading warriors were next

  • Below them came merchants and skilled artisans

  • At the bottom came the peasant majority with the slaves beneath them

Religion Shapes Maya Life

  • The Maya believe in many gods (polytheistic)

  • Maya believed that each day was a living god

Religious Practices

  • They prayed and made offerings of food, flowers and incense

  • They also pierced and cut their bodies and offered their blood believing that this would nourish the gods

  • Sometimes they even carried out human sacrifices – usually the captured enemies

  • The Maya believed that human sacrifice pleased the gods and kept the world in balance

Math and Religion

  • Maya religious beliefs also led to the development of the calendar, mathematics and astronomy

  • The calendar helped identify the best times to plant crops, attack enemies, and crown new rulers

  • They based their calendar on careful observations of the planets, the sun, and the moon

Written Language Preserves History

  • The Maya also developed the most advanced writing system in the ancient Americas

  • It consisted of about 800 hieroglyphic symbols

Mysterious Maya Decline

  • The history of the Maya ended in mystery

  • They suddenly abandoned many of their cities

  • Increased warfare disrupted trade and produced economic hardship

  • Population growth and over farming may have damaged the environment and this led to food shortages, famine and disease



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