Roles In Ancient Maya

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By: Delaney



Core 5/6

Roles In Ancient Maya

The roles of people in the Ancient Mayan society were very specific to each person’s class and line of work, the Mayan social structure is what laid the foundation for a functional way of life, religion and astronomy were also focal points in Ancient Mayan society. The classes in Ancient Maya were (from lowest rank to highest rank) slaves, workers, servants, artisans, merchants, officers, commoners, nobles, priests, and kings. Both the husband and the wife equally held families in Ancient Maya together. The typical Mayan family had five to seven members. The woman cooked and weaved while the men farmed and hunted. Although slaves and serfs are at the bottom of the social pyramid they played a crucial role in Mayan society. Religion in Ancient Maya was something that was not taken lightly, and was a disciplined way of life. Social classes were like the glue of everyday life in Ancient Maya.
Class structure in Ancient Maya was very complex. There were a lot of different categories to fit into. “ Mayan society was rigidly divided between nobles, commoners, serfs and slaves.” ( At the bottom of the social class was serfs and slaves. Serfs worked the land of the ruler or town leader. Slaves were traded for things of value and both serfs and slaves were treated like animals. Slaves and serfs held everything together like the foundation of a skyscraper.
Next in the social pyramid were the commoners. Commoners worked usually as farmers, labors, and part time servants/maids. The difference between serfs and farming commoners is that commoners were paid more, were not the property of their boss, and they worked only part time. Some commoners went up in rank through their work that started as low rank artisans or merchants. Moving up in the ranks was allowed between classes because if a low rank artisan or merchant’s work was in higher demand or started selling for a high price they would make more money and be in a higher class. Commoners were not allowed to wear clothing or symbols that showed nobility, nor could they purchase or use any luxury items. Commoners usually lived outside the central areas of towns or cities.
Next after the commoners came the nobles. The noble class was complex and specialized. The rack of nobility was pass on through elite family lineages. Nobles served as rulers, government officials, tribute collectors, military leaders, high priests, local administrators, cacao plantation managers, and trade expedition leaders. Nobles were known to be literate and wealthy, they normally lived in the central areas of towns or cities. The noble class purchased almost all luxury goods. The life of a noble was much easier than the commoners and they loved spoiling themselves. Nobles would ware things of high value like feathers, flowers, jade, and shells. Nobles were allowed by law to wear symbols of nobility. In return for all the benefits of this class, nobles regularly offered their blood to the gods. They did this by puncturing their ears, tongues, and genitals with thorns or stingray spines. Nobles considered blood letting an honor, for their blood was good enough for the gods.
Next in social rankings came the kings, whom of which had the most luxury, wealth, and food privileges such as cocoa. Kings were looked up to because they had everything all the lower classes wanted. Kings gave orders to the nobles and helped keep all the classes in their rightful place. Overall, the class system in Ancient Maya was tightly knit into a multi-layered structure!
Family life in Ancient Maya was much different than family life where we live today. They typical Mayan family had five to seven members, which meant more crammed living spaces. The average family would wake before dawn for breakfast and drink either hot cocoa (for the wealthy) or a hot corn based drink called Atole (for the families who had less money). Women in the family would cook and weave (as their specialty tasks). Women were allowed to participate in the economy, government and some farming activities. In Mayan society there were some matrilineal (which means women’s family line) advantages. Women’s weaving work could tell you what class she was a part of. In the noble/higher class’s women used bright, varying colored dyes, and higher quality fibers. Women who had enough money for patterned fabric would weave very highly priced tapestries. Some women raised deer so that their family/village would have a consistent food supply.

Men in the family had very different responsibilities than the women. Both were equally important (because the woman provided some very important things in ancient life such as, blankets for warmth, baskets for carrying goods, and other things they used in every day life and men provided food and other food resources that were also vital in survival of the Mayans). In the morning the men in the family ate their meals quickly and left to work in the fields (if that was their classes job), when the father wasn’t working in the fields he would hunt or trap animals for food purposes. In desperate times the peasant men would serve as soldiers. The men and women of families helped keep each household in order.

Slaves in Ancient Maya had the hardest life. Slaves possessed zero rights, and higher authority enforced this. “Some slaves were treated like animals” ( Slaves could only do work under direct orders from there owners. Slaves weren’t allowed to defend themselves even if they were being harmed or abused by their owners. Since there was an active trade for slaves in Mayan Society, some were considered high end or a lesser-valued slave. Commoners and elites were allowed to own slaves. Individuals could be enslaves as a form of punishment of not paying debts/tax’s or for other specific crimes. If a non-slave married slave then both would become slaves to the original owner. When a slave’s owner died the slaves were usually sacrificed so that they could continue their duty to their owner in the next world.
Serfs were at the bottom of the social pyramid along with the slaves. The serfs worked the land of the ruler or local town owner. Serfs were treated somewhat better than slaves but not much. They were primarily land workers for the higher classes.
Religion in Ancient Maya influenced everything from daily life to court cases. The Mayans developed one of the most sophisticated cultures in the western hemisphere, (before the arrival of the Spanish). Mayan religion was characterized by the worship of nature gods, such as, the gods of rain, sun and corn. There are many other gods that the Mayans worshipped. Mayan believed that all their gods had both good and bad sides but most choose to portray their good side. “The major god of the Mayan people was Izamna, whose was known as the god of fire and earth as well as being a creator.” ( Their sun god was known Kinih Ahous and the maze or corn gods was known as Yum Kaax.

The Mayan’s believed that the soul would never die, but that it continued on a dangerous journey to the afterworld. They believed in a heaven, but it was only reserved for those who died in childbirth or were sacrificed to the gods. The Mayans honored their gods with offerings of plants, food, flowers, feathers, jade, and shells. They believed that blood was equal to strength. They would sacrifice animals, or (more rarely) humans. People who were sacrificed were typically orphans, slaves, and nobles captured during wars.
Some Mayan leaders also took on the role as a pastor or preacher to their people. Pastors and preachers were the only ones who could make contact with all the different gods. The Mayan religion was polytheistic, meaning it contained many gods. The Mayans believed in over one hundred and sixty gods.

Some of the Mayans greatest achievements were their calendars and astronomical buildings. These were both used for religious reasons. The Mayan calendar was created by a combination of mathematics and astronomy. This first calendar was based on the sun and it contained 18 months with 20 days each, plus five unlucky days. In total the first Mayan calendar contained 365 day. The same amounts of days in the calendar we use today! Their second calendar was made up of 13 months with 20 days each. Their second calendar had 260 days in all.

In conclusion Ancient Mayan society had so many layers from class structure to their 160-god belief system. The roles of people in the Mayan society were very specific to each person’s class and line of work. The Mayan social structure is what laid the foundation for a functional way of life. Class structure was the glue holding daily life together, and keeping everyone in there rightful places. Families were the new generation makers, slaves were the ground beneath the feet of the higher classes, and religion was the center of peace and hope in the Ancient Mayan Society!

Delaney Pucelik

Work Cited Page
Maya Social Structure”, Tarlton Law Library, 2014, web, 2/4/15
Mayan Family Life.”,”Ancient Mayan Civilization””n.d”,web,2/4/15,

Authors Page

Hello, my name is Delaney and I was born in Santa Cruz C.A. I was raised in Bonny Doon and still live their. I have a family of 5 (including my dog). My mom’s name is Tulsi, my dad’s in Eric, my sisters name is Marley, and my dogs name is Cash. I love my dog more than anything, he is literally like my brother. He sleeps with me every night and is always their when i need him. I am a dog person and I have never had a cat. I really enjoy playing the guitar (I have been playing for 3 years now), volleyball, musical and regular theatre, and fashion. I do a play every summer and i have done 6 going on 7. In The Sound Of Music I was Gretel and then when I was older I played Elsa. In Annie I played Ms.Hannigin (which was one of my favorite rolls i have every played, and many more productions. I am currently 13 and I am in 7th grade at Mission Hill Middle School. I went to Bonny Doon Elementary School for 9 years (2 years of preschool all through 6th grade) their I became best friends with Mia. Although we met in preschool , it was only until 1st grade we actually became friends. We have been inseparable ever since. We look very much alike so most people assume were twins. We have all the same classes this year and our lockers are right next to each other! I love her like a sister and I don’t know what I would do without her!

I was inspired to do my report on the Ancient Mayan’s because their way of life still fascinates to this day ,even after all the information I have learned about them.

- Delaney

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