The Maya culture or civilization was developed by one of the most outstanding pre-Columbian Mesoamerican peoples, whose beginnings are traced from the Preclassic Period (2000 BC – 250 AD) of the continent and its last vestiges to the Postclassic Period (900-1527) d.), when the Conquest of America took place.

The Mayans developed in various aspects, achieving the only complete writing system of all pre-Columbian America, and leaving an important legacy in artistic, architectural, mathematical, astronomical and ecological matters.


During its heyday, the Mayans were the dominant culture in the region, encompassing almost all of Mesoamerican territory and maintaining very dynamic relations with other local cultures, such as the Olmecs or the Mixtecs. Next, and as a summary, we explain the most outstanding characteristics of the Maya civilization.

10 Characteristics Of Maya Civilization - What was the Maya civilization?

Characteristics Of Maya Civilization

1. Location

The Mayan peoples emerged in the Mesoamerican continent, considered one of the six cradles of humanity, and came to expand along a territory that includes, today, the southeast of Mexico and the north of Central America: the totality of the Yucatan peninsula, the whole of Guatemala and Belize, as well as western Honduras and El Salvador.


2. History

The history of the Maya civilization is extensive: almost 3500 years of duration. Therefore it is usually divided into three major periods:

Preclassic The one that goes from 2000 a.C. to 250 d. C., during which the first vestiges of the Mayan town are given and the settlements slowly become the first great cities of the region. In the last period of this period (the so-called Late Preclassic) there was the first cultural flowering of the Mayans and, towards the 1st century AD. C., its first collapse. Many cities were abandoned due to unknown causes.

Classic. The one that goes from 250 to 900 d. C., in which occurs a rebirth of Mayan culture comparable only to that lived in Europe after the Middle Ages or, in any case, to the Greece of classical antiquity. During this period large and bloody wars took place, which eventually led to a new political collapse and abandonment of cities, in favor of the northern regions.

Postclassic The one that goes from 950 to 1539 d. C., more or less, during which vestiges of the Mayan culture in cities located in high territories, whose organization in various Mayan states obeyed a council of kings and kingdoms whose internal struggles weakened them for the arrival of the Spanish settlers. .

3. Contact and conquest

Like many other American indigenous peoples, the Maya received the Spanish conquering armies with their weapons in hand. However, the quarrels between the various Mayan kingdoms were skillfully exploited by the conquering armies, which formed and broke alliances at their convenience and in 1697 the last of the independent Mayan cities, Nojpetén of the Itza kingdom, fell to the hands of Martín de Urzúa.

4. Political organization

The Mayans, unlike the Aztecs or the Incas, did not form a central political system, of a single state or kingdom. Instead, they were managed between the coexistence of diverse states and cacicazgos, which eventually achieved temporary regional dominance.


All, however, consisted of variants of a theocratic monarchy, whose king was imposed by divine will from a political elite, so the intrigues and alliances between the various castes were frequent and destructive.

10 Characteristics Of Maya Civilization - What was the Maya civilization?

5. Social organization

Initially, Mayan society was divided between the dominant elite and the mass of commoners, an order that was based on military force and religious tradition.

However, the sustained growth of the Mayan states allowed the emergence of more complex economic and political classes, which distinguished low-ranking priests, soldiers, artisans and officials from the rest of the peasantry and serfdom, or slaves.

6. War

The Mayans were assiduous warriors and witnessed numerous political-military conflicts throughout their history. The Mayan kingdoms competed with each other for predominance and the war culture was central in their conception of the world: the humiliation or sacrifice of the defeated warriors, as well as the reward of the great fighters with parts of the body of the fallen were common practices.

His favorite weapons were the blowguns, obsidian swords and especially the atlatl, a sort of long spears, although in the post-classic period the bow and arrow, commonly used for hunting, prevailed.

7. Architecture

The Mayan cities varied considerably in their architecture, although they possessed similar characteristics. Each style depended on the available materials, the specific topography and the preferences of the elite, whose buildings were always the most durable.

The temples occupied a preferential place in the Mayan city, as well as the palaces for the rulers. The houses of the plebs were made with softer materials and therefore did not last, so we ignored much about the popular classes of the Maya.

8. Writing

The Maya achieved the most advanced writing system of all pre-Columbian America, whose beginnings are estimated between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. C. on the coast of present-day Guatemala. Its system is very similar to the isthmic writing (logograms) also Mesoamerican, reason why it is suspected that they arose in parallel. The Mayans used it to write on vessels, murals and stelae.

9. Mathematics

The Mayans created a numerical system based on 20, which consisted of stripes and points to represent the figures, with the absolute innovation that they added a sign to represent zero. This is often considered a Mayan contribution to humanity, although it may have been preceded by the Babylonian system.


10 Characteristics Of Maya Civilization - What was the Maya civilization?

10. Language

The language spoken by the Maya was diverse, that is, it was not one. The ancestral protomaya would have derived into a set of Mayan languages, which obeyed the different kingdoms that spoke them: the Huastecan language, Quicheana, Mameana, etc. However, most of the Mayan texts of the classic period found are in classical cholti.

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