Lecture 13 - Chapter 11: Realms

Why are some political systems more successful than others?


- Great Temple Pyramid (Templo Mayor) topped by twin temples to the gods of water (Tlaloc) and the god of war (Huitzilopochtli).

- Cycle of warfare: The need for sacrificial victims (to have their hearts ripped out) fuels the need for captives from warfare which results from conquest. The fact that these conquests also produced large amounts of tribute is only a convenient coincidence (yeah, right!)

- Rewrote history: when the Aztecs came to power, they burned the books and rewrote history according to their viewpoint.

Military and Administrative controls: how did the Aztecs maintain control?

- Garrison towns in conquered regions

- Intimidation: biggest army (from lots of food); Skull rack (Tzumpontli) showing the skulls of sacrificial victims

- Tribute: budgeted as a function of a town's resistance to conquest

Imperial resorts demonstrate the king had access to a very large amount of labor.

Warfare: warfare benefited the soldiers and the nobles, not just the king. Social mobility was possible.

Agriculture: chinampas: Immensely productive lake system also provided exceptional transport


Archaeologists assumed there was a unified Maya empire due to the widespread cultural similarities (same written language, similar architecture, similar art works), but it was discovered that each center had its own kings.

Even Mayan farms on the most productive land were not as productive as the Aztec chinampa system. Thus, Mayan kings had to resort to weaker means of control (could not support a permanent army) such as religious and ceremonial control.

- Ball-game: both sport and political theater (like the Olympics).

- Bloodletting

- Warfare: ceremonial and elite activity so kings can obtain prestige: benefited only the elites.

- Diplomacy: marriages and official visits between ruling families linked centers (For example, the king of Copan married the daughter of the king of Palenque).

- Mayan kings were not indispensable: 18-rabbit (also called 18-jog) was killed, but life in Copan was apparently unaffected.

- Written language: served elite and propaganda purposes: non-elites were not literate.

Thus, Mayan kings were much weaker than the Aztec Emperors because, where the Aztecs had a permanent army and police force, the Maya kings had only their prestige.

The Mayan center of Dos Pilas tried to establish a conquest empire and was twice as large as the largest Mayan centers. However, the Mayan political system of ruling through lineages could not cope with such an unprecedented expansion with the result that the conquered territories quickly rebelled, conquered Dos Pilas, and through the entire region into anarchy.