Chronicle of Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya

Overview

For a thousand years the dense rain forests of Central America concealed the ruins of one of the world's great civilizations, that of the ancient Maya. Early explorers found themselves in cities dominated by steep temple pyramids and fallen idols covered in unfathomable hieroglyphs. Since the mid-nineteenth century, scholars have tried to understand the mysterious people who produced one of the greatest flowerings of art and culture in the New World. Behind the ruined Maya cities and their abandoned artworks—the ...
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Overview

For a thousand years the dense rain forests of Central America concealed the ruins of one of the world's great civilizations, that of the ancient Maya. Early explorers found themselves in cities dominated by steep temple pyramids and fallen idols covered in unfathomable hieroglyphs. Since the mid-nineteenth century, scholars have tried to understand the mysterious people who produced one of the greatest flowerings of art and culture in the New World. Behind the ruined Maya cities and their abandoned artworks—the superb sculptures of Copan, the fine vase painting of Naranjo, the mighty pyramids of Tikal and Calakmul—lie the turbulent stories of their ruling dynasties. The recent tremendous progress in reading Maya hieroglyphs is now bringing this story into focus. Here is the first book to bring together and examine the greatest Maya dynasties in a single volume. Two of the world's leading experts in Maya hieroglyphic decipherment reveal the latest thinking on the nature of Maya divine kingship, statehood, and political authority, and describe the most recent readings and archaeological finds, including their own discoveries. 250 illustrations, 100 in color.

Key features of the book include:


* biographical accounts of 152 kings and four ruling queens;
* royal names spelled in hieroglyphs, plus datafiles listing lineage, spouses and children, and place of burial;
* special features and boxes, ranging from the supernatural journeys of the dead kings to the Maya ballgame;
* timelines providing at-a-glance visual guides to the length and key events of each reign.

There's nothing else like this book. It supersedes everything else ever written onMaya history. (Michael D. Coe, author of Breaking the Maya Code)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780500051030
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson
  • Publication date: 11/28/2000
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 10.28 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface: Discovering the Maya Past 6-7
Introduction: 8-23
Maya History — The Major Periods 8-9
Map 10
Maya Writing and Calendars 11-13
The Royal Culture of the Maya 14-16
Classic Maya Politics 17-21
Comparative Timelines 22-23
Tikal 24-53
The great crucible of Maya civilization,
Tikal's immense ruins reflect an 800-year dynastic history
that ran the gamut from regional ascendancy to abject defeat
Dos Pilas 54-67
Founded by the Tikal exile B'alaj Chan K'awiil,
the Dos Pilas kingdom took the name of its mother city Tikal
and fought a relentless series of wars against it
Naranjo 68-83
A kingdom rarely free from foreign attack,
Naranjo enjoyed its greatest success under the
`warrior queen' Lady Six Sky and her
five-year old son K'ak' Tiliw Chan Chaak
Caracol 84-99
Playing a significant part in the military and diplomatic
exchanges of the 6th century AD, the Caracol dynasty
controlled a densely settled region
Calakmul 100-115
Enjoying a `golden age' of over 130 years,
the kingdom of the `snake' eclipsed its arch-rival Tikal
to create the most important political hegemony covering
a great swathe of the Maya realm
Yaxchilan 116-137
A brief but sparkling florescence during the 8th century
saw Itzamnaaj B'alam II and his son Bird Jaguar IV
reshape the physical profile of their city
Piedras Negras 138-153
Monuments here provided the clues that unlocked
Maya history,of obscurity and Piedras Negras kings
were the first to emerge from a thousand years
Palenque 154-175
Home to the spectacular tomb of janaab' Pakal,
Palenque combines artistic splendour with
recurring dynastic failure
Tonina 176-189
The images of bound captives that dominate
Tonina's hillside capital are testament to the militaristic
ambitions of warrior kings such as B'aaknal Chaak
Copan 190-213
Remarkable discoveries in recent years have contributed
to a new historical understanding of this artistic innovator
at the edge of the Maya world
Quirigua 214-225
In a story of rebellion and transformation,
Quirigua freed itself from domination by neighbouring
Copan and went on to create monumental art
of unprecedented scale
Epilogue: Fall of the Divine Kings 226-230
Notes and Bibliography 231-236
Acknowledgments and Illustration Credits 237
Index 237-240
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First Chapter




Preface


Discovering the Maya Past


Of the moral effect of the monuments themselves, standing as they do in the depths of a tropical forest, silent and solemn, strange in design, excellent in sculpture, rich in ornament, different from the works of any other people, their uses and purposes and whole history so entirely unknown, with hieroglyphics explaining all but perfectly unintelligible, I shall not pretend to convey any idea.


Those are the words of John Lloyd Stephens, the American diplomat, journalist and explorer who, in 1839, together with English artist Frederick Catherwood, was one of the first outsiders to penetrate the rainforests of Central America. What the pair had encountered were the remains of ancient Maya civilization, which had lain smothered by vegetation, derelict and abandoned for almost a thousand years. Built by the ancestors of the modern Maya — who live today where they did in ancient times, in the area now covered by Guatemala, Belize, the eastern portion of Mexico and the western extremities of Honduras and El Salvador — no other culture in the New World has aroused such intense interest or posed so many puzzles.

    Initially, scholars preferred to attribute Maya wonders to Phoenicians, Israelites or Atlanteans, but even after their indigenous origins had been established, ideas almost as fanciful took their place. The ancient Maya were now a people without precedent, unworldly pacifists who worshipped time itself. Their great ruins were not cities but empty `ceremonial centres', simply stages where priest-astrologersperformed awe-inspiring rituals for a peasantry scattered in the forest. The monuments carried portraits of priests and their gods; the hieroglyphs — less a form of writing than a clumsy aide mémoire — encoded only numerology, star-lore and incantations. All these misconceptions were shattered in the early 1960s. Proper mapping revealed that, far from being empty, the ruins were the cores of dispersed cities with populations that could run into tens of thousands. More decisively still, in a few key articles Tatiana Proskouriakoff demonstrated that the carved figures were actually kings and queens and that the inscriptions included biographies of their lives and names of the captives they had seized. At a stroke, the Maya had become an historical people.

    Recent decades have seen an ongoing revolution in our understanding of the Maya, as archaeological research has burgeoned throughout the region and tremendous progress has been made in deciphering the writing system. The `breaking' of the Maya code, though still incomplete, has offered unique insights into Maya thought and society, ranging from grand visions of the cosmos to the pragmatic structure of government. Although the challenges are considerable — monuments and their inscriptions have often been shattered by tree-fall or eroded by centuries of tropical downpour — the reward is the chance to peer into an otherwise lost annal of Precolumbian America.

    The Maya were never politically unified and during the height of the Classic period (AD 250-909) were divided into a patchwork of more than 60 kingdoms. Each ruled by a `divine lord', they were locked in a constant struggle to preserve their autonomy or achieve dominance over their neighbours. Especially successful rulers might establish themselves as `overkings' operating far-flung networks of political patronage — but in this turbulent landscape no kingdom achieved a permanent hold on power.

    In Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens we examine 11 of the most influential and best-known kingdoms, and the dynasties that did most to shape the highpoint of Maya civilization. Behind the vast ruins of Tikal and Calakmul lie the stories of two of the most important, implacable rivals whose competition had an influence on the whole region. But much smaller sites such as Dos Pilas have fascinating tales of their own. Created by the Tikal exile B'alaj Chan K'awiil, it represented a `splinter state' traitorously in league with Calakmul. His daughter Lady Six Sky, one of very few ruling queens, went on to establish a new dynasty at distant Naranjo, securing her realm with a determined series of conquests. One of the more dramatic changes of fortune took place in the far east. Copan's Waxaklajuun Ub'aah K'awiil presided over his city's greatest flowering of art and culture, but met his end in decapitation at the hands of a former vassal, the king of little Quirigua. Great rivals for supremacy in the west, Tonina and Palenque produced rulers of contrasting style. The former's B'aaknal Chaak is now best known for his relentless warring, the latter's Janaab' Pakal for the unparalleled grandeur of his burial.

    Yet, for all its vigour, splendour and high culture, the world of the divine kings ended in a spectacular fall. By the early 10th century AD the royal dynasties were gone, populations had slumped dramatically and the greatest cities were abandoned to the forest. Our survey concludes with a look at the latest evidence about this enigmatic episode and the shadowy Postclassic era that followed it.


Introduction


Maya History — The Major Periods


The chronology of Mesoamerican civilization — following on from an Archaic period of hunter-gatherers — is traditionally divided into three eras: the Preclassic, Classic and Postclassic.


The Preclassic: 2000 BC-AD 250


The Preclassic (or Formative) period covers the emergence of complex societies and is itself divided into three major sub-periods, the Early (2000-1000 BC), Middle (1000-400 BC) and Late (400 BC-AD 250). The first great civilization, the Olmec, reached its apogee during the Middle Preclassic along the swampy estuaries of the Mexican Gulf Coast. Widely regarded as the `mother culture' of Mesoamerica, Olmec concepts and art styles spread far beyond their homeland and were a major influence on emerging Maya societies. It was among the Zapotec, whose civilization arose in the mountainous Oaxaca region, that historical portraits were first joined by hieroglyphic writing around 600 BC. During the Late Preclassic scripts were developed in several parts of Mesoamerica, most notably among the successors of the Olmec, the Epi-Olmec, and the Maya.

    By now the Southern Maya Area of highlands and coastal piedmont were developing into the distinctive Miraflores and Izapan societies respectively. The pictorial stelae found at Izapa itself are notable for including the first recognizable scenes from Maya mythology. As early as 500 BC, the Maya of the lowland forests were establishing their first major cities, raising at their cores great red-painted temple platforms decorated with ornate stucco god masks. Nakbe was among the first but was ultimately superseded by El Mirador, the largest concentration of monumental architecture ever built by the Maya. For reasons as yet unclear, this vibrant culture failed around the 1st century AD and most of its greatest cities were abandoned.

    The main characteristics of the Classic civilization that followed — the use of the Long Count calendar, together with the carving of hieroglyphic inscriptions and historical portraits — reflect the rise of a new political ideology and ideal of dynastic kingship (pp. 11-13; 17). In the Maya region these features first made their appearance in the Southern Area between AD 37 and 162, at sites such as Kaminaljuyu, El Baúl and Abaj Takalik, while Classic-style dynasties established themselves at Tikal in the Central Area by around AD 100 (p. 26). For reasons still unknown, the south experienced a premature decline, and by 250 the momentum of Maya culture shifted decisively to the lowlands.


The Classic: AD 250-909


It was over the next six centuries or so — predominantly in the Central Area — that Maya civilization reached its greatest florescence, forging the landscape of kingdoms examined in this volume. Yet the Maya were never isolated from developments in central Mexico, which by now was dominated by the vast metropolis of Teotihuacan, housing at its peak more than 125,000 people. Few if any parts of Mesoamerica were to be unaffected by its cultural, political and economic might; and its distinctive, rather angular style of art and architecture can be found in all Maya regions. Contacts were at their most direct during the 4th century AD, when Kaminaljuyu was revitalized under heavy Teotihuacan influence, and a swathe of the lowlands came, if only briefly, within its political ambit.

    The year 600 marks the transition between the Early and Late Classic periods (today mostly defined in terms of art style), roughly coinciding with the fall of Teotihuacan. The Late Classic saw Maya civilization reach its peak population, greatest social complexity and artistic and intellectual highpoint. Yet this success did not endure and as early as 800 there are signs of significant distress: dynasties begin to collapse and population levels suffer a precipitous decline (for fuller treatment of these and later events see the Epilogue pp. 226-7). This traumatic era, a sub-period known as the Terminal Classic, ends with the last recorded date in the Long Count calendar in AD 909. The crisis was not immediately reflected in the north, however, where cities such as Chichen Itza and Uxmal show growth at this time.


The Postclassic: AD 909-1697


By the dawn of the Early Postclassic (909-1200) Maya populations were largely concentrated in the Northern and Southern Areas, with the old Central heartland only sparsely inhabited. Chichen Itza continued as a regional power in the north, now showing close ties with the new masters of central Mexico, the Toltecs. The hybrid Maya-Mexican architecture of Chichen reflects its cosmopolitan make-up, while historical sources tell of its wide political influence. The succeeding Late Postclassic (1200-1697) witnessed Chichen Itza's decline and its ultimate replacement by Mayapan. This lesser imitator held sway over at least some of Chichen's former domain until internal discord caused its abandonment around 1441. In the Southern Area, the latter stages of the Classic had seen large-scale movements in population, with western arrivals creating a new series of statelets. The most powerful of these were the Quiche, though by 1475 they were being overtaken by their former vassals, the Cakchiquel.

    The Postclassic came to an end in Mexico with the fall of the famed Aztec Empire to Spanish invaders and their native allies in 1521. But Maya resistance proved stubborn and it was only with difficulty that the Spanish brought the southern communities to heel in 1527 and their northern brethren largely by 1546. Maya kingdoms in the isolated forests of the Central Area proved more dogged still, and held out until their final conquest in 1697.


Maya Writing and Calendars


Whenever the intellectual achievements of Precolumbian America are discussed, the famed writing system and timekeeping of the Maya are always well to the fore. While the origins of both hieroglyphics and the calendar are obscure, there can be no dispute that the Maya took them to their highest level. The source of their particular passion can be traced to the social and political developments that transformed the Preclassic into the Classic. The new emphasis placed on dynastic descent, and ultimately divine kingship, created a need for permanent records to proclaim genealogy, ritual and great deeds — legitimizing the rule of individuals by fixing their lives within a sacred time order.


Hieroglyphic Writing


Maya hieroglyphs present the reader with a richness and visual elaboration unrivalled by any of the world's ancient scripts. The system as we know it today was evidently developed by the speakers of Ch'olan, one of the principal Mayan language groups, sometime in the Late Preclassic. Although it was later adapted by groups such as the Yucatecan-speaking Maya of the north, royal inscriptions in all areas remained predominantly Ch'olan, suggesting that this served as a kind of pan-Maya prestige speech, much as French did in the courts of medieval England, or for that matter 18th-century Germany and Russia.

    The discovery of the phonetic basis of hieroglyphic writing, largely the work of the Russian Yuri Knorosov, has proved the key to its decipherment. Like most other hieroglyphic scripts, Maya writing is a `mixed system' that uses signs called logographs for whole words, with others representing syllables and vowels. Part of its complexity lies in the variety of its spelling conventions, which allowed a single term to be written in a number of different ways. For example, the title ajaw `lord, ruler', could be composed of: a) one of several alternative logographs; b) a logograph complemented by a syllable giving a phonetic clue to its reading; or c) constructed entirely from syllables (themselves often selected from a choice of signs). Individual signs could also be manipulated graphically, as when one is `infixed' into another, with no effect on the reading of either. At any one time the system used no more than 500 signs, of which 300 or so of the most common are now deciphered. Though this process is well advanced, many questions remain unanswered and some important areas, such as its verbal structure and the marking of features like vowel length, are only now succumbing to investigation.

    Dynastic records were most often inscribed on the tall monoliths called `stelae' (sing. stela), but are also found on stone wall panels, altars, thrones and door lintels and in similar contexts modelled in stucco plaster or carved in wood. Texts were also engraved on objects of jade, shell and bone, usually as marks of ownership on items of jewelry. But it is as well to remember that most writing was on perishable media, especially the bark-paper books known as codices (of which only four Postclassic examples, all non-historical almanacs, survive). Maya hieroglyphs developed from the tradition of brush painting, and scribes — who held a prestigious place in society — were called aj tz'ib, literally `he of the painting'. Their fine calligraphy is preserved on a few wall murals and, much more commonly, on ceramic vessels.

    Surviving texts are dedicated entirely to the doings and concerns of the elite class. Public inscriptions tend to be terse affairs, with much use of formulaic expressions and redundant duplication of known facts. This gives us a rather skewed idea of Maya literature. Only rarely do we see first-person quotations, more animated or poetic language, or glimpse the wider range of topics discussed in long-lost books.


The Maya Calendar


The basis of any sophisticated time reckoning is a numerical system. Maya numbers were made from combinations of just three symbols: a dot for `one', a bar for `five' and a variable sign that represented `zero'. The largest single digit was 19, composed of three bars and four dots. For larger numbers a system of place notation was employed, working in base 20 rather than our own base 10.

    At the heart of the Mesoamerican conception of time lay a 260-day calendar of 20 named days and 13 numbers, now known in the Maya area as the Tzolk'in. This ritual count was usually intermeshed with another based on the solar year, a 365-day `vague year' called the Haab. This was composed of 18 months of 20 numbered days, with a short month of five spare days at the end of the year. Since it fell short of the true solar year by about a quarter of a day, it slowly `slid' against the seasons (although the Maya were well aware of this they made no attempt to correct it). The combined Tzolk'in and Haab is known as the Calendar Round, in which no combination repeats for 18,980 days or 52 vague years.

    Recording greater expanses of time required a further system, one especially associated with the Classic era, called the Long Count. Normally the highest unit was the Bak'tun (of roughly 400 years), followed by the K'atun (of about 20 years), the Tun (360 days), Winal (20 days) and finally K'in (single days). Confusingly, the Winal position works to base 18, probably so that it could approximate the solar year at 360 days. Mayanists notate the Long Count as a scale of descending value, separated by periods beginning with the Bak'tun. The penultimate day of the 10th Bak'tun is thus written today 9.19.19.17.19, the next day completing the cycle as 10.0.0.0.0. Although these historical dates contain five places, there were in fact 19 higher ones, the full system reflecting a quite unimaginable scope of time.

    This five-place section of the Long Count had a starting point in 3114 BC, perceived as the creation of the current universe. The system was actually devised sometime in the 8th Bak'tun (7.0.0.0.1-8.0.0.0.0, 354 BC-AD 41) — popularly known as Cycle 7 — the earliest surviving date falling in 32 BC at Chiapa de Corzo, between the Olmec and Maya zones. The first known date that is probably Maya appears at El Baúl, on the Pacific Coast, in AD 37. The earliest from the lowlands falls in the following Cycle 8, at Tikal in AD 292. The great majority of Long Counts record dates in Cycle 9, with the last coming in Cycle 10 in AD 909. Maya stelae were erected primarily to commemorate key stages in the Long Count, most often whole K'atun-endings (such as 8.18.0.0.0 or 9.13.0.0.0), but half- and quarter-K'atuns were not uncommon, occurring every 10 and 5 years respectively (e.g. 8.18.10.0.0 and 9.13.5.0.0).

    The opening date on major monuments is called the Initial Series. This includes the Long Count and its appropriate Calendar Round, but was further elaborated with various kinds of lunar data and other ritual cycles (see panel). This served as a base from which the chronology of the rest of the text was calculated, expressed in Calendar Rounds linked by precise day counts.


The correlation question


Converting the Long Count into the Christian calendar was a key concern of early scholars and to some extent the question remains with us today. Rather cryptic statements from 16th-century Spanish chroniclers, native histories from the Colonial period and remnants of the ancient calendar still in use in parts of the Guatemalan highlands have all been compared with astronomical data in the inscriptions and archaeological techniques such as radiocarbon dating. The correlation that best fits these diverse criteria, and is now almost universally accepted, is that of Goodman-Martinez-Thompson (GMT). It is likely that any deviation from this is only a matter of a few days and, in fact, most specialists currently use a two-day shift from GMT as standard. The key to a final placement undoubtedly lies in celestial records of the Classic era. Unfortunately, these rarely offer single-day precision (most phenomena taking place over a number of days and their observation affected by the vagaries of cloud cover). Notable exceptions are eclipses. A monument at Poco Uinic, in the Chiapas highlands of Mexico, ties the Long Count 9.17.19.13.16 to a term known from Postclassic codices to represent a solar eclipse. Just such an event took place on 16 July 790, falling three days after the original GMT, one day after the standard amendment. It is still unclear if this correlation was one used by all Maya kingdoms or whether, as elsewhere in Mesoamerica, there were deviations across the region. All Christian conversions in this volume keep to the common GMT+2 and are given in the Julian calendar, the system in use throughout Europe during the relevant period and the standard for astronomical calculation.


The Royal Culture of the Maya


The Classic Maya developed a complex and highly refined royal culture which was reflected in all areas of their art, architecture and writing. Rulers combined supreme political authority with a quasi-divine status that made them indispensable mediators between the mortal and supernatural realms. From ancient times they were especially identified with the youthful Maize God, whose bounty of corn underpinned all civilization in Mesoamerica. Each stage of life — from birth to death to resurrection — found its parallel in the cycle of the maize plant and the myth that served as its metaphor (p. 222). In this way, the interests of the humble farmer and high king were entwined and basic sustenance set at the heart of Maya religion.


The path to divine power


Royal succession was strongly patrilineal and the rule of queens arose only when the dynasty might otherwise be extinguished. As far as we can tell, primogeniture was the norm: eldest sons had preference. Princelings were termed ch'ok, originally meaning `unripe, youth', but later extended to the wider sense of `noble'. The heir himself was distinguished as the b'aah ch'ok `head youth'. Childhood was marked by a series of initiation rites, one of the more important being a bloodletting usually performed at the age of five or six (see pp. 60-1). Although blood was their main claim to legitimacy, candidates still had to prove themselves in war. A bout of captive-taking often preceded elevation to office and the names of such prisoners were sometimes incorporated into the kings' name phrase, in the formula `Master/Guardian of so-and-so'.

    Kingly investitures were elaborate affairs made up of a series of separate acts. There was an enthronement, the heir's seating on a cushion of jaguar skin, sometimes atop an elevated scaffold bedecked with celestial symbolism and accompanied by human sacrifice. A scarf bearing a jade image of huunal, the `Jester God' (so called because of the leafy three-lobed top to his head), an ancient patron of royal authority, would be tied to the forehead. An elaborate headdress of jade and shell mosaic, trailing green iridescent plumes of the quetzal bird, would follow. A sceptre carved into an image of the snake-footed deity k'awiil was taken. The name carried in childhood was now joined by a k'uhul k'aba' `divine name', usually taken from a predecessor, sometimes a grandparent (in modern Maya communities children are seen as reborn grandparents, a single word mam meaning both grandparent and grandchild) (see panel).


The rites of kingship


From here on, the calendar dictated a lifelong regimen of ritual and performance. The most enduring relics of these rites are the multi-ton stelae the Maya called lakamtuun or `big/banner stones'. Their engraved texts describe their own erection, the binding of the altar set before it and the scattering of blood or incense it received. These ceremonies replicated primeval acts that first set the universe in motion. Carved with the king's image, often shown standing on a bound captive or iconic location, their inscriptions go on to chronicle the major historical events that have occurred since the last stone was set up.

    Most ceremonies were conducted in the guise of appropriate deities, identified by a full costume and usually a mask (almost always depicted in cutaway form to show the wearer's face). Some required specialized dance rituals, each identified by its own name and paraphernalia (one involved live snakes). The accompaniment would consist of singing, the blowing of trumpets and conch shells and the beating of drums and turtle carapaces. More privately, rulers and their families sought to enter the spirit world through vision and trance induced by hallucinogenic drinks and enemas. They also performed auto-sacrifice, drawing blood from their tongues and genitalia with the aid of thorns, stingray spines and blades of the volcanic glass obsidian.

    Every major Maya city included at least one ballcourt. In the game itself two teams would attempt to keep a large (and very hard) rubber ball from touching the ground, scoring points by means of floor markers and wall-mounted rings. Equipment included padding for the knees and elbows and a wide waist belt or `yoke'. Kings might style themselves aj pitzal `ballplayer', though their real interest lay in the game's mythic significance. The ballcourt of the Underworld was the place of sacrifice described in the Popol Vuh (the 16th-century creation epic of the Quiche Maya) where the Maize God met his death, but from which he was ultimately reborn (see p. 130).


The royal court, governance and war


Kings held court in palaces set in the heart of their capitals. Painted vessels show evocative scenes of courtly life, with enthroned lords surrounded by wives and retainers, often receiving the homage of vassals delivering mounds of tribute. Maya kings seem to have been polygamous, but marriage is not a topic much discussed in the inscriptions (p. 131). Also in attendance were musicians and dwarves. The latter were more than simple jesters, they enjoyed a high status derived from their special association with caves and entries into the Underworld. Scenes showing the feasting and entertaining of both visiting lords and local nobility reflect not so much leisure activities as the operation of government and diplomacy.

    A key responsibility of kingship was to lead one's forces into battle against rival kings. Although the timing of attacks was essentially a tactical decision, there can be no doubt that auguries were strenuously examined in search of the most auspicious moment (see panel). To be taken captive was the greatest disaster to befall a Maya king. Public humiliation was obligatory and many seem to have been tortured before their execution by beheading, burning, or being tied into balls and cast down flights of steps. Occasionally, however, they appear to have survived their ordeals and even returned to their thrones as vassals of the victor.


Journeys to the gods: death and burial


Advanced age was seen as especially prestigious, and long-lived kings would invariably carry titles stating how many K'atuns they had seen. Death, when it came, was viewed as the beginning of a journey, a retracing of the Maize God's descent into the Underworld, where victory over the gods of decay and disease would lead to rebirth and apotheosis (pp. 167, 222). In preparation for this odyssey, dead rulers were laid in well-built tomb chambers. Stretched out on a wooden bier, the corpse was dressed in the weighty jade jewelry worn in life, wrapped in textiles and jaguar pelts and given a heavy dusting of the blood-red minerals hematite and cinnabar. Accompanying offerings included: ceramic vessels holding foodstuffs and drinks made from kakaw (cocoa beans), shells and other marine `exotics', the effigies of gods in clay or wood, mirrors of polished hematite or pyrites, bark-paper books, musical instruments, items of furniture and, occasionally, human sacrifices. In many cases a steep pyramid would be raised above the tomb, its upper temple a shrine for the king's veneration as a deified ancestor. These temples were maintained over successive generations, forming a collective repository of dynastic power. In later years tombs might be ritually re-opened, their contents scattered about and the defleshed bones scorched with fire or removed as relics.

(Continues...)

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