The Mayan culture was a civilization that developed in Mesoamerica and occupied the territories of present-day southern Mexico and northern Central America, reaching Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Belize. Although its beginning dates back to the Preclassic period, its apogee took place during the Classic period, between 250 and 900 AD. C.
From that moment, the Mayan civilization experienced a long decline, with the exception of the cities located in the Yucatan peninsula, where this culture maintained its splendor for a few more centuries. The arrival of the Spanish wiped out the last vestiges of this civilization.
This civilization is considered one of the most advanced among all those that developed in Mesoamerica. Among his achievements is the creation of a complete written language, as well as his contributions to architecture and art. Likewise, they were the inventors of sophisticated astronomical and mathematical systems.
Unlike other Mesoamerican cultures, the Mayans did not create a unitary state, but instead formed city-states with considerable independence of their own. The legitimacy of the kings came from religion, since they were considered divine figures within a society with a marked class character.
Origin and history
The origin of the Mayan culture is located in the Preclassic period, a stage that comprised between 2000 BC. C and 250 d. Already in the classical period the moment of maximum splendor of this civilization arrived.
Preclassic Period (c. 2000 BC-250 AD)
The first settlements built by the Mayans, in Belize, occurred around 2600 BC. Eight hundred years later, they reached the Pacific coast, specifically the Soconusco region. At this stage they already practiced agriculture, although only of some basic products, such as beans, chili or corn.
Already during the Middle Preclassic, the Mayan settlements began to grow larger, until they became cities. The oldest documented locality was Nakbé, located in the department of Petén, in present-day Guatemala. Also during this stage, the Mayans began to populate the north of Yucatan.
The remains found have led archaeologists to affirm that in the 3rd century BC. C. the Mayans had already created a writing system, at least in Petén.
Later, in the late Preclassic, the Mayan cities continued to grow. Among them, El Mirador and Tikal stood out.
However, the evolution of the Mayan culture stopped in the 1st century BC. Many of the great cities built were abandoned, without knowing the reason for this collapse.
Classic Period (c. 250-900 AD)
The Mayan civilization recovered again during the Classic period, a time during which it lived its maximum splendor. Experts divide this period into two parts: the Early Classic, between 250 and 550 AD. C., and the late Classic, which lasted until 900 d. C.
In the early Classic, the Mayan cities picked up the influence of Teotihuacan, a large city located in the Valley of Mexico. The rulers of this town sent a military expedition to Tikal in 378 AD. C. and installed a new royal dynasty.
Its relationship with Teotihuacan allowed Tikal to progress to become the ruler of all the central lowlands. Only Calakmul, located in Petén, could compete with the power of Tikal, so a great rivalry developed between both cities.
Later, during the Late Classic, the Mayans experienced a great cultural explosion driven by the kings of the most important city-states of this period: Tikal, Palenque, Copán, Piedras Negran or Yaxchilán, among others.
As in the Preclassic period, a new collapse affected the Mayan city-states between the 9th and 10th centuries AD. C. There are various theories about the causes of this decline, none of them has been confirmed. On the other hand, the consequences are known: abandonment of many cities and return to the political system of the first stage of the Preclassic.
Postclassic Period (c. 950-1531 AD)
The Yucatan peninsula was the only area that did not suffer the decline suffered by the Mayan cities. In this way, that territory went from being one of the least important to becoming the continuator of its entire culture.
Chichén Itzá was the most important city in the first part of this period. This settlement had arisen in 987 AD. C., when members of the Itzá ethnic group arrived in the area from Tabasco.
Later, the town was invaded by groups of Toltec culture under the command of a leader who received the title of Kukulcán, ‘Plumed Serpent’ in Spanish. These were installed in the city of Mayapán.
In the 13th century, the Itzá were defeated by a coalition made up of the cocom from Mayapán and mercenaries from central Mexico. The consequence was the establishment of a despotic system of government that lasted until 1441. That year, a league of city-states destroyed the city.
The last years of the Postclassic period were characterized by continuous wars that pitted city-states against each other.
After the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, the Mayans lost all their influence and, like the rest of the indigenous peoples, were forced to adopt the religion and customs of the victors. Despite this, some city resisted for a time, such as Tayasal, the last stronghold of the Mayan civilization in Petén, which resisted until 1697.
Geographical and temporal location