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Maya Political Science

Time, Astronomy, and the Cosmos

By Prudence M. Rice

Publication Year: 2004

How did the ancient Maya rule their world? Despite more than a century of archaeological investigation and glyphic decipherment, the nature of Maya political organization and political geography has remained an open question. Many debates have raged over models of centralization versus decentralization, superordinate and subordinate status—with far-flung analogies to emerging states in Europe, Asia, and Africa. But Prudence Rice asserts that neither the model of two giant “superpowers” nor that which postulates scores of small, weakly independent polities fits the accumulating body of material and cultural evidence. In this groundbreaking book, Rice builds a new model of Classic lowland Maya (AD 179–948) political organization and political geography. Using the method of direct historical analogy, she integrates ethnohistoric and ethnographic knowledge of the Colonial-period and modern Maya with archaeological, epigraphic, and iconographic data from the ancient Maya. On this basis of cultural continuity, she constructs a convincing case that the fundamental ordering principles of Classic Maya geopolitical organization were the calendar (specifically a 256-year cycle of time known as the may) and the concept of quadripartition, or the division of the cosmos into four cardinal directions. Rice also examines this new model of geopolitical organization in the Preclassic and Postclassic periods and demonstrates that it offers fresh insights into the nature of rulership, ballgame ritual, and warfare among the Classic lowland Maya.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: The Linda Schele Series in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xv-xviii

I propose here that Classic Maya political organization is best understood by means of the direct-historical approach, that is, by retrodicting elements of Postclassic and early Colonial period organization back into the Classic period. I hypothesize that Classic (and also Preclassic) Maya geopolitico-religious organization...

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Note On Orthography And Dates

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pp. xix-xx

Aside from card-carrying epigraphers, most readers of specialized or even general publications about the Maya have experienced the confusion and frustration of trying to remain current with the rapidly changing readings, interpretations, and orthography of Classic glyphs, kings’ names, and so forth...

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pp. xxi-xxii

This monograph had its origins in about 1995 as an effort to synthesize data on the Late and Terminal Classic monuments of the Pet

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1. Introduction: Approaches to Maya Political Organization

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pp. 1-21

The political organization of the Classic period (a.d. 179–948) lowland Maya civilization of northern Guatemala, Belize, and the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico (Fig. 1.1) has defied explication. Proposed models debate centralized versus decentralized, stable versus unstable, and chiefly versus state systems, often...

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2. Previous Reconstructions of Classic Maya Political Organization

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pp. 22-55

The Classic period (a.d. 179–948; see Table 1.1) political organization of the lowland Maya has been the subject of endless theorizing, modeling, and debate throughout the twentieth century (see reviews by Becker 1971:28–105, 1979; Willey 1986; Hammond 1991:14–18; Culbert 1991b; Marcus 1993; Lucero...

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3. Maya Politico-Religious Calendrics

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pp. 56-84

A direct-historical approach to Classic lowland Maya political organization begins with proximate groups—close in time, location, language, and culture—for which there is ample information about not only political structures and functions but also their archaeological correlates. Such groups are the Postclassic...

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4. Tikal as Early Seat of the May

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pp. 85-120

K’atun endings were celebrated throughout the Maya lowlands during the Classic period. As revealed in Morley’s early twentieth-century monument surveys, the Maya regularly commemorated the completion of quarter, half, and full k’atuns by erecting sculptured, dated stelae. Several decades ago it became evident...

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5. Tikal’s Late and Terminal Classic Seating of the May

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pp. 121-167

Tikal was renewed as a cycle seat, or may ku, in the Late Classic period during a K’atun 8 Ajaw (a.d. 672–692). In 682, the midpoint of this k’atun, Jasaw Kan K’awil I (the Tikal ruler formerly known as Ruler A or Ah Cacao) came to power on 5 Kib’ 14 Sotz’ (May 4), only four days before the...

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6. Other Classic Period May-based Realms

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pp. 168-203

There is persuasive evidence that, as Edmonson earlier conjectured, the Classic Maya observed may cycles and that the may was seated at Tikal. Edmonson (1979:15) also suggested that, besides Tikal, other southern lowland seats of the may might have included Cop

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7. New Terminal Classic May Realms

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pp. 204-242

Archaeologists’ attention to the lowland Maya Terminal Classic period, typically dated from circa 790–800 to 950–1000, has long been focused on two topics: “collapse” in the south and “Toltec” influence and chronology in the north. These concerns were identified by archaeologists early in the twentieth...

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8. Implications of the May Model

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pp. 243-274

The Maya geopolitical organizational structure based on the may would have had broad ramifications and implications for other major cultural institutions, including political economy, intra- and intersite relations, and various aspects of ritual. Here I consider the implications of may based political organization...

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9. Conclusion

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pp. 275-290

My working definition of political organization has been “the hierarchically structured offices or roles of power and authority existing within, between, and among polities and their elites, whereby goal-oriented decisions about internal/external relations (including relations with the supernatural realm) and allocation...


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pp. 291-331


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pp. 333-352

E-ISBN-13: 9780292797383
E-ISBN-10: 0292797389
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292702615
Print-ISBN-10: 0292702612

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 82 b&w figures, 15 tables
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: The Linda Schele Series in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies
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OCLC Number: 60612439
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Maya Political Science

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Subject Headings

  • Mayas -- Politics and government.
  • Guatemala -- Antiquities.
  • Mayas -- History.
  • Mayas -- Antiquities.
  • Mexico -- Antiquities.
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